In which we see how a standard, textbook, tenth grade civics class history of Anglo-American political philosophy gets a lot more interesting once you realize “the Enlightenment” was wrong, and liberal democrats are the bad guys.
Table of Contents
- Democratic Schizophrenics
- Will of the People, including:
- Revolutionary Terror, featuring:
- Manufacturing Consent, including:
- The Age of Lies
- Basic Guide to the Political Spectrum
- Recommended Reading
- Letters to the Editor
Oh, good. It’s John Locke (image). I think we’ve heard enough from you to last ten thousand years.
The more people who have access to the ballot, the better the country will be.
The question of improper political influence over government decision-making…
The latter-day Whig or progressive assessment of popular government reduces to two propositions: that (1) “democracy” is both an ethical necessity and the ideal organizational structure for any country-sized corporation; whereas (2) actual public policy decisions should be made by experts — scholars, that is, who will no doubt be Whigs — as opposed to whichever scoundrels happened to win the last election, let alone by the whims of 51 percent of some huge, confused mob; these garnished with the all-purpose Whig meta-proposition that (a) contradiction notwithstanding, these two claims are beyond dispute (typically by appeal to the current date); with the obvious corollary that (b) anyone who insists on disputing them must be stupid, crazy, or downright evil. In short: “democracy” good, “politics” bad, shut up and don’t ask questions. We’ll call it the democratic double valence.
“The more people who have access to the ballot, the better the country will be.” And there the editorial ends: no evidence is necessary, and none is provided. “The question of improper political influence over government decision-making is at the heart of the controversy.” The improper influence of who now? Over what now? Who, if not the elected representatives of the people, is supposed to be making government decisions?
Associations differ between “democracy”…
… and “politics”…
… even though “you don’t have one without the other” (images).
Here we see proposition (1) in action, courtesy of the New York Times (2008):
In a vast, high-ceilinged tent, Ali al-Rashed sounded an anguished note as he delivered the first speech of his campaign for Parliament.
“Kuwait used to be No. 1 in the economy, in politics, in sports, in culture, in everything,” he said, his voice floating out in the warm evening air to hundreds of potential voters seated on white damask-lined chairs. “What happened?”
It is a question many people are asking as this tiny, oil-rich nation of 2.6 million people approaches its latest round of elections. And the unlikely answer being whispered around, both here and in neighboring countries on the Persian Gulf: too much democracy.
In a region where autocracy is the rule, Kuwait is a remarkable exception, with a powerful and truculent elected Parliament that sets the emir’s salary and is the nation’s sole source of legislation. Women gained the right to vote and run for office two years ago, and a popular movement won further electoral changes.
Despite those gains, Kuwait has been overshadowed by its dynamic neighbors — Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Qatar — where economies are booming under absolute monarchies.
Meanwhile, in Kuwait City’s “financial district”…
But do tell us more about these marvelous votes you got in exchange.
It is unlikely that many Kuwaitis would be willing to trade their political rights and freedoms for more economic opportunity. But the notion that democracy is somehow holding Kuwait back is common.
“It’s true, the friction in our politics delays things,” said Kamel Harami, an oil analyst. “The sheik of Abu Dhabi can say, ‘Go build this,’ and it’s done. He doesn’t have me, the press, the TV stations, the Parliament, getting in his way. But what people need to understand is that democracy isn’t the problem; it’s that democracy isn’t being used correctly.”
“There are people who want to say, ‘Look at democracy, look at what it causes,’” said Nawaf al-Mutairi, a business student. “But we know democracy is our last hope. The problem is just that democracy is incremental.”
You know, this Kuwaiti train of thought seems strangely familiar…
In each country it is for [democracy] and the people there to transform it by their own efforts, and in that way the whole world will be transformed step by step into a [democratic] world. Will the [democratic] world be good? We all know it will be. […] It will of course be the best, the most beautiful and the most advanced society in human history. Who can deny that such a society is good?
Who indeed. Rights and freedoms!
[Democracy] will defiantly win final victory by relying on the [international community] and the masses of the exploited and oppressed people and by using [Enlightenment values] to guide the revolutionary struggle of the masses and propel society towards the great goal of [democracy]. The reason is that the historical laws of social development make the progress of human society towards [democracy] inevitable.
But on the other hand, we must also understand that the cause of [democracy] is the most arduous undertaking in all history; that only through protracted, bitter and torturous struggle will we be able to defeat all the exploiting classes; and that for a long time after our victory we shall patiently have to carry out social and economic, ideological and cultural transformation.
One might almost say that “democracy in the office and the factory” (not to mention the grain field) “is a preparation for democracy in society at large.”
Since the [democratic] cause is so great and arduous an undertaking, some people who seek social progress are still sceptical and not convinced that [democracy] can be realized. They do not believe that under the leadership of the [United Nations] the human race can develop and transform itself into a [democratic] mankind of the highest quality and that all the difficulties in the process of revolution and construction can be overcome.
Ah, thank you, President Shaoqi, that clears things up considerably. That, by the way, was How to Be a Good Communist (1939) with surprisingly few edits. We must work harder, Comrades! Ignore the lying Trotskyite wreckers. We know democracy is our last, best hope. Now get out there and punch some kulaks in the throat!
Proposition (2), on the other hand, is well illustrated by — well, actually, the New York Times will do just fine here, too (2008):
Last month, Wisconsin voters did something that is routine in the United States but virtually unknown in the rest of the world: They elected a judge.
“To the rest of the world,” Hans A. Linde, a justice of the Oregon Supreme Court, since retired, said at a 1988 symposium on judicial selection, “American adherence to judicial elections is as incomprehensible as our rejection of the metric system.”
Sandra Day O’Connor, the former Supreme Court justice, has condemned the practice of electing judges.
“No other nation in the world does that,” she said at a conference on judicial independence at Fordham Law School in April, “because they realize you’re not going to get fair and impartial judges that way.”
There is reason to think, though, that the idea of popular control of the government associated with President Andrew Jackson is an illusion when it comes to judges. Some political scientists say voters do not have anything near enough information to make sensible choices, in part because most judicial races rarely receive news coverage. When voters do have information, these experts say, it is often from sensational or misleading television advertisements.
“You don’t get popular control out of this,” said Steven E. Schier, a professor of political science at Carleton College in Minnesota. “When you vote with no information, you get the illusion of control. The overwhelming norm is no to low information.”
In an interview, Justice Butler — a graduate of the University of Wisconsin law school who served for 12 years as a judge in Milwaukee courts — said the past few months had tested his commitment to elections.
“My position historically has been that there is something to be said for the public to be selecting people who are going to be making decisions about their futures,” Justice Butler said.
“But people ought to be looking at judges’ ability to analyze and interpret the law, their legal training, their experience level and, most importantly, their impartiality,” he continued. “They should not be making decisions based on ads filled with lies, deception, falsehood and race-baiting. The system is broken, and that robs the public of their right to be informed.”
You know what? Some of these arguments seem strangely familiar, too. I’m quite sure I’ve heard it said before that “voters do not have anything near enough information to make sensible choices,” and that “when voters do have information, it is often from sensational or misleading advertisements” —
There is nothing more uncertain than the People; their Opinions are as variable and sudden as Tempests; there is neither Truth nor Judgment in them; they are not led by Wisdom to judg of any thing, but by Violence and Rashness; nor put they any Difference between things True and False. After the manner of Cattel, they follow the Herd that goes before; they have a Custom always to favour the Worst and Weakest; they are most prone to Suspitions, and use to Condemn men for Guilty upon any false Suggestion; they are apt to believe all News, especially if it be sorrowful; and like Fame, they make it more in the Believing; when there is no Author, they fear those Evils which themselves have seigned; they are most desirous of New Stirrs and Changes, and are Enemies to Quiet and Rest; Whatsoever is Giddy or Head-strong, they account Man-like and Couragious; but whatsoever is Modest or Provident, seems sluggish; each Man hath a Care of his Particular, and thinks basely of the Common Good; they look upon Approaching Mischiefs as they do upon Thunder, only every Man wisheth it may not touch his own Person; it is the Nature of them, they must Serve basely, or Domineer proudly; for they know no Mean.
— or words to that effect. Come to think of it, I’m sure Justice Butler wasn’t the first to point out that “the system is broken” and won’t produce experienced, impartial judges —
If any man think these Disorders in Popular States were but Casual, or such as might happen under any kind of Government, he must know, that such Mischiefs are unavoidable, and of necessity do follow all Democratical Regiments; and the Reason is given, because the Nature of all People is, to desire Liberty without Restraint, which cannot be but where the Wicked bear Rule; and if the People should be so indiscreet, as to advance Vertuous Men, they lose their Power: for that, Good Men would favour none but the Good, which are always the fewer in Number; and the Wicked and Vicious (which is still the Greatest Part of the People) should be excluded from all Preferment, and in the end, by little and little, Wise Men should seize upon the State, and take it from the People.
— or indeed experienced, impartial anything. No, I’m afraid those lines are not from the New York Times, but from Patriarcha: The Natural Power of Kings by Sir Robert Filmer, a defense of divine-right monarchy published in 1680 (more on which later).
How have we still not caught up to Filmer? How are we still so muddled and befuddled by democratic nursery rhymes? Human rights, equality, diversity — all the little noises people make with their mouths when they want you to stop thinking about the most effective and responsible way to organize the operation of a country and just cast your stupid vote and pay your damn taxes. “Democracy! For rights and freedoms!” Yes, I’ve heard. And Brawndo’s got what plants crave. It’s got electrolytes.
“What is Democracy,” Thomas Carlyle wonders (1855); “this huge inevitable Product of the Destinies, which is everywhere the portion of our Europe in these latter days?”
There lies the question for us. Whence comes it, this universal big black Democracy; whither tends it; what is the meaning of it? A meaning it must have, or it would not be here. If we can find the right meaning of it, we may, wisely submitting or wisely resisting and controlling, still hope to live in the midst of it; if we cannot find the right meaning, if we find only the wrong or no meaning in it, to live will not be possible! The whole social wisdom of the Present Time is summoned, in the name of the Giver of Wisdom, to make clear to itself, and lay deeply to heart with an eye to strenuous valiant practice and effort, what the meaning of this universal revolt of the European populations, which calls itself Democracy, and decides to continue permanent, may be.
Certainly it is a drama full of action, event fast following event; in which curiosity finds endless scope, and there are interests at stake, enough to rivet the attention of all men, simple and wise. Whereat the idle multitude lift up their voices, gratulating, celebrating sky-high; in rhyme and prose announcement, more than plentiful, that now the New Era, and long-expected Year One of Perfect Human Felicity has come. Glorious and immortal people, sublime French citizens, heroic barricades; triumph of civil and religious liberty — O Heaven! one of the inevitablest private miseries, to an earnest man in such circumstances, is this multitudinous efflux of oratory and psalmody, from the universal foolish human throat; drowning for the moment all reflection whatsoever, except the sorrowful one that you are fallen in an evil, heavy-laden, long-eared age, and must resignedly bear your part in the same.
Oh yes, Carlyle knows all about barriers falling before true Lightworkers as they pass on historic journeys, the oceans receding and our whole planet healing to a chorus of Yes we can! (vote for the candidate with right colour skin) and We are the ones! (unlike all the ones before, and all the ones to follow): the people’s election, for the right sort of people (“take that, Fox News”) — and no, my friends, the drama isn’t nearly over.
Shall we, then, resignedly bear our part in this evil, heavy-laden age? Or shall we make a ruckus? I say ruckus. Tonight, we too will wonder, not for the first time, “What is Democracy?” — searching, in particular, for the roots of the double valence, in the often rocky relationship between democracy and the intellectuals.
But they’ve probably been deceived, so actually whoever knows the General Will should rule (image)
Our survey begins with the Genevan philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) and his concept of the “general will,” which he introduced in his highly influential Social Contract: Principles of Political Right (1762):
If then we discard from the social compact what is not of its essence, we shall find that it reduces itself to the following terms —
“Each of us puts his person and all his power in common under the supreme direction of the general will, and, in our corporate capacity, we receive each member as an indivisible part of the whole.”
So what is a “general will”? Rousseau does not bother to define it, but he does tell us several amazing things about it. For one thing, it doesn’t represent the will of any given citizen, but it must be something really good, because any citizen who refuses to obey it is hurting everyone else in society:
In fact, each individual, as a man, may have a particular will contrary or dissimilar to the general will which he has as a citizen. His particular interest may speak to him quite differently from the common interest: his absolute and naturally independent existence may make him look upon what he owes to the common cause as a gratuitous contribution, the loss of which will do less harm to others than the payment of it is burdensome to himself; and, regarding the moral person which constitutes the State as a persona ficta, because not a man, he may wish to enjoy the rights of citizenship without being ready to fulfil the duties of a subject. The continuance of such an injustice could not but prove the undoing of the body politic.
In order then that the social compact may not be an empty formula, it tacitly includes the undertaking, which alone can give force to the rest, that whoever refuses to obey the general will shall be compelled to do so by the whole body. This means nothing less than that he will be forced to be free; for this is the condition which, by giving each citizen to his country, secures him against all personal dependence. In this lies the key to the working of the political machine; this alone legitimises civil undertakings, which, without it, would be absurd, tyrannical, and liable to the most frightful abuses.
The general will is also not what the people say it is, because they can’t be trusted:
It follows from what has gone before that the general will is always right and tends to the public advantage; but it does not follow that the deliberations of the people are always equally correct. Our will is always for our own good, but we do not always see what that is; the people is never corrupted, but it is often deceived, and on such occasions only does it seem to will what is bad.
It would seem to follow that whoever can divine the “general will” — presumably by philosophizing of some sort, as it was by philosophizing that Rousseau concocted it in the first place — is entitled to rule with absolute power. If anyone disagrees with him, indeed even if everyone disagrees with him, why, they’ve probably been deceived somehow, and must be compelled to obey! For their own good, of course.
Rousseau follows up with an “essential” prescription for a one-party state:
If, when the people, being furnished with adequate information, held its deliberations, the citizens had no communication one with another, the grand total of the small differences would always give the general will, and the decision would always be good. But when factions arise, and partial associations are formed at the expense of the great association, the will of each of these associations becomes general in relation to its members, while it remains particular in relation to the State: it may then be said that there are no longer as many votes as there are men, but only as many as there are associations. […]
It is therefore essential, if the general will is to be able to express itself, that there should be no partial society within the State, and that each citizen should think only his own thoughts. […] These precautions are the only ones that can guarantee that the general will shall be always enlightened, and that the people shall in no way deceive itself.
“Forced to be free.” The “injustice” of “independent existence.” “The general will is always right,” but “the people is often deceived,” and we must not allow it to “deceive itself.” I think you see where this is going. Sir Henry Sumner Maine (1822–1888) certainly did; from his essential Popular Government (1885):
From this origin sprang the People (with a capital P), the Sovereign People, the People the sole source of all legitimate power. From this came the subordination of Governments, not merely to electorates but to a vaguely defined multitude outside them, or to the still vaguer mastership of floating opinion. Hence began the limitation of legitimacy in governments to governments which approximate to democracy. A vastly more formidable conception bequeathed to us by Rousseau is that of the omnipotent democratic State rooted in natural right; the State which has at its absolute disposal everything which individual men value, their property, their persons, and their independence, the State which is bound to respect neither precedent nor prescription; the State which may make laws for its subjects ordaining what they shall drink or eat, and in what way they shall spend their earnings; the State which can confiscate all the land of the community, and which, if the effect on human motives is what it may be expected to be, may force us to labour on it when the older incentives to toil have disappeared. Nevertheless this political speculation, of which the remote and indirect consequences press us on all sides, is of all speculations the most baseless. The natural condition from which it starts is a simple figment of the imagination.
What “natural condition” is that? In a word: the Noble Savage.
Rousseau’s ideas about a “general will” were based on his beliefs about human nature, set out in his Discourse on the Origin and Basis of Inequality Among Men (1754):
The first man who, having enclosed a piece of ground, bethought himself of saying This is mine, and found people simple enough to believe him, was the real founder of civil society. From how many crimes, wars and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not any one have saved mankind, by pulling up the stakes, or filling up the ditch, and crying to his fellows, “Beware of listening to this impostor; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody.” […]
So many writers have hastily concluded that man is naturally cruel, and requires civil institutions to make him more mild; whereas nothing is more gentle than man in his primitive state, as he is placed by nature at an equal distance from the stupidity of brutes, and the fatal ingenuity of civilised man. Equally confined by instinct and reason to the sole care of guarding himself against the mischiefs which threaten him, he is restrained by natural compassion from doing any injury to others, and is not led to do such a thing even in return for injuries received. For, according to the axiom of the wise Locke, There can be no injury, where there is no property.
Though men had become less patient, and their natural compassion had already suffered some diminution, this period of expansion of the human faculties, keeping a just mean between the indolence of the primitive state and the petulant activity of our egoism, must have been the happiest and most stable of epochs. The more we reflect on it, the more we shall find that this state was the least subject to revolutions, and altogether the very best man could experience; so that he can have departed from it only through some fatal accident, which, for the public good, should never have happened. The example of savages, most of whom have been found in this state, seems to prove that men were meant to remain in it, that it is the real youth of the world, and that all subsequent advances have been apparently so many steps towards the perfection of the individual, but in reality towards the decrepitude of the species.
Maine says of this:
The Contrat Social, which sets forth the political theory on which I am engaged, appears at first sight to give an historical account of the emergence of mankind from a State of Nature. But whether it is meant that mankind did emerge in this way, whether the writer believes that only a happily circumstanced part of the human race had this experience, or whether he thinks that Nature, a beneficent legislatress, intended all men to have it, but that her objects were defeated, it is quite impossible to say with any confidence. The language of Rousseau sometimes suggests that he meant his picture of early social transformations to be regarded as imaginary; but nevertheless the account given of them is so precise, detailed, and logically built up, that it is quite inconceivable its author should not have intended it to express realities.
I have myself no doubt that very much of the influence of Rousseau over the men of his own generation, and of the next, arose from the belief widely spread among them that his account of natural and of early political society was literally true.
The question is, how does Rousseau’s natural history stack up next to those other, “hastier” writers? First among the writers Rousseau had in mind was the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) for his great work Leviathan: The Matter, Form and Power of a Commonwealth, Ecclesiastical and Civil (1651):
Hereby it is manifest, that during the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war; and such a war, as is of every man, against every man. For WAR, consisteth not in battle only, or the act of fighting; but in a tract of time, wherein the will to contend by battle is sufficiently known: and therefore the notion of time, is to be considered in the nature of war; as it is in the nature of weather. For as the nature of foul weather, lieth not in a shower or two of rain; but in an inclination thereto of many days together: so the nature of war, consisteth not in actual fighting; but in the known disposition thereto, during all the time there is no assurance to the contrary. All other time is PEACE.
Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of war, where every man is enemy to every man; the same is consequent to the time, wherein men live without other security, than what their own strength, and their own invention shall furnish them withal. In such condition, there is no place for industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving, and removing, such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.
Well, as Hunter Thompson once almost put it: “We’ve learned a lot about human nature since then.” Who has the right of it? Are we, in our “primitive state,” “restrained by natural compassion from doing any injury to others,” as Rousseau claimed, or do we “live without security” in “continual fear, and danger of violent death”?
Steven Pinker is blunt but judicious in The Blank Slate (2003):
It is the doctrine of the Noble Savage that has been most mercilessly debunked by the new evolutionary thinking. […]
In the past two decades anthropologists have gathered data on life and death in pre-state societies rather than accepting the warm and fuzzy stereotypes. What did they find? In a nutshell: Hobbes was right, Rousseau was wrong.
To begin with, the stories of tribe out there somewhere who have never heard of violence turn out to be urban legends. Margaret Mead’s descriptions of peace-loving New Guineans and sexually nonchalant Samoans were based on perfunctory research and turned out to be almost perversely wrong. As the anthropologist Derek Freeman later documented, Samoans may beat or kill their daughters if they are not virgins on their wedding night, a young man who cannot woo a virgin may rape one to extort her into eloping, and the family of a cuckolded husband may attack and kill the adulterer.
Even a Mead apologist, who accuses Freeman of “smearing” her, must concede that “Mead downplayed some of the uglier aspects of Samoan sexuality — including violent rape and physical punishment bestowed on those who violated sexual norms.” Furthermore, the fact that “many in the American Anthropological Association (AAA) rose to defend Mead against Freeman… probably has something to do with the relative popularity in leftist anthropology of Mead’s story — more about the happy importance of nurture” than the “unhappy persistence of nature” (my emphasis).
In 2013, Mead’s supposedly peaceful Papua New Guinea, which is actually “rife with violence, in part due to its tribal culture,” reinstated the death penalty after “a spate of horrific crimes against women,” including an American bird researcher raped by nine armed men; two elderly women tortured for three days and beheaded on suspicion of sorcery; and “a young mother stripped naked, doused with petrol and burned alive” for the same reason. “Witch burning, torture and sorcery are still frighteningly common in Papua New Guinea,” according to the Sydney Morning Herald. The beheadings continue.
Pinker goes on:
The !Kung San of the Kalahari Desert had been described by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas as “the harmless people” in a book with that title. But as soon as anthropologists camped out long enough to accumulate data, they discovered that the !Kung San have a murder rate higher than that of American inner cities. They learned as well that a group of the San had recently avenged a murder by sneaking into the killer’s group and executing every man, woman, and child as they slept. But at least the !Kung San exist. In the early 1970s the New York Times Magazine reported the discovery of the “gentle Tasaday” of the Philippine rainforest, a people with no words for conflict, violence, or weapons. The Tasaday turned out to be local farmers dressed in leaves for a photo opportunity so that cronies of Ferdinand Marcos could set aside their “homeland” as a preserve and enjoy exclusive mineral and logging rights.
Moreover, Keeley and others have noted that native peoples are dead serious when they carry out warfare. Many of them make weapons as damaging as their technology permits, exterminate their enemies when they can get away with it, and enhance the experience by torturing captives, cutting off trophies, and feasting on enemy flesh.
Not exactly what Rousseau had in mind when he wrote: “The example of savages, most of whom have been found in this state, seems to prove that men were meant to remain in it.” Interestingly, Maine had a pretty good handle on the facts in 1885:
So far as any research into the nature of primitive human society has any bearing on so mere a dream, all inquiry has dissipated it. The process by which Rousseau supposes communities of men to have been formed, or by which at all events he wishes us to assume that they were formed, is again a chimera. No general assertion as to the way in which human societies grew up is safe, but perhaps the safest of all is that none of them were formed in the way imagined by Rousseau.
And yet the Noble Savage flourishes, even in the sciences; Maine again:
The fact is that political theories are endowed with the faculty possessed by the hero of the Border-ballad. When their legs are smitten off they fight upon their stumps. They produce a host of words, and of ideas associated with those words, which remain active and combatant after the parent speculation is mutilated or dead. Their posthumous influence often extends a good way beyond the domain of politics.
All right, so where did Rousseau get his ideas about human nature, if not from actual humans or actual nature? His Discourse cites “the axiom of the wise Locke”:
There can be no injury, where there is no property.
That would be the English philosopher John Locke (1632–1704), dangling at the center of his web of so-called “Enlightenment.” We tracked his “axiom” to ‘Morality Capable of Demonstration’ in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1689; my emphasis):
I doubt not but from self-evident propositions, by necessary consequences, as incontestable as those in mathematics, the measures of right and wrong might be made out to any one that will apply himself with the same indifferency and attention to the one, as he does to the other of these sciences. The relation of other modes may certainly be perceived, as well as those of number and extension: and I cannot see why they should not also be capable of demonstration, if due methods were thought on to examine or pursue their agreement or disagreement. Where there is no property, there is no injustice, is a proposition as certain as any demonstration in Euclid: for the idea of property being a right to any thing; and the idea to which the name injustice is given, being the invasion or violation of that right; it is evident, that these ideas, being thus established, and these names annexed to them, I can as certainly know this proposition to be true, as that a triangle has three angles equal to two right ones.
Locke is playing games with definitions: in the most charitable interpretation of his argument, rights are considered to be a form of property, and injustice means to violate a right. “Where there is no property,” it follows that no one has any rights, which makes it impossible to violate any rights, so “there is no injustice.” Sure, your grandmother was just kidnapped and eaten by a howling cannibal biker gang, but seeing as she didn’t legally own the right not to be turned into grandmother stew, Locke doesn’t understand why you persist in calling it an “injustice.” (A less charitable interpretation is that all property is considered to be a form of right, and injustice means to violate a property right — not any other kind of right. This also leads directly to grandmother stew. The least charitable interpretation is that the whole thing makes no sense.)
Compare Hobbes, four decades earlier, taking the same basic idea but developing it in an altogether more insightful fashion towards a real, sensible moral conclusion:
To this war of every man, against every man, this also is consequent; that nothing can be unjust. The notions of right and wrong, justice and injustice have there no place. Where there is no common power, there is no law: where no law, no injustice. Force, and fraud, are in war the two cardinal virtues. Justice, and injustice are none of the faculties neither of the body, nor mind. If they were, they might be in a man that were alone in the world, as well as his senses, and passions. They are qualities, that relate to men in society, not in solitude. It is consequent also to the same condition, that there be no propriety, no dominion, no mine and thine distinct; but only that to be every man’s, that he can get; and for so long, as he can keep it. And thus much for the ill condition, which man by mere nature is actually placed in; though with a possibility to come out of it, consisting partly in the passions, partly in his reason.
The passions that incline men to peace, are fear of death; desire of such things as are necessary to commodious living; and a hope by their industry to obtain them. And reason suggesteth convenient articles of peace, upon which men may be drawn to agreement.
Locke’s train of thought gets no further than Hobbes’ first sentence; Locke doesn’t even bother to mention that where there is no property, there is not only no injustice, but also no justice. And by calling it a moral argument, that “the measures of right and wrong might be made out,” Locke all but guarantees that someone is going to misinterpret his tautology to mean that if no one owns any stuff, everyone will be nice to one another. Rousseau: “Nothing can be more gentle than man in his primitive state. For, according to the axiom of the wise Locke…” Fail. You fail at reading comprehension, Rousseau. (By the way, it’s not even an axiom. You can’t prove an axiom. Double fail.)
I am not the first person to have noticed this. George Berkeley is counted among the great British Empiricists, along with Locke and (the truly great) David Hume. Here is Berkeley’s take on ‘Morality capable of demonstration’ (circa 1705):
To demonstrate morality it seems one need only make a dictionary of words and see which included which. At least, this is the greatest part and bulk of the work.
Locke’s instances of demonstration in morality are, according to his own rule, trifling propositions.
Similarly, Richard Foster Jones (Stanford English) in The Seventeenth Century: Studies in the History of English Thought and Literature from Bacon to Pope (1951):
It is perhaps instructive to observe how Locke here lapses, not only into a trifling proposition, but into a monstrous definition which defies common sense and “constant experience.” […]
(“A monstrous definition” refers to the less charitable interpretation above.)
Such abuses of deductive reasoning vitiate the whole mass of ethical and political speculation left us by the geometrical spirit of the eighteenth century. They are the enthusiasms of a mathematical faith that would leap over all difficulties, that felt itself strong enough to move mountains.
In the same Essay, Locke invents a key bit of Whig doctrine: the Blank Slate.
I know it is a received doctrine, that men have native ideas, and original characters, stamped upon their minds, in their very first being. This opinion I have, at large, examined already; […]
Let us then suppose the mind to be, as we say, white paper, void of all characters, without any ideas; how comes it to be furnished? Whence comes it by that vast store which the busy and boundless fancy of man has painted on it, with an almost endless variety? Whence has it all the materials of reason and knowledge? To this I answer, in one word, from experience; in all that our knowledge is founded, and from that it ultimately derives itself.
Locke establishes his claim in what we now recognize as typical Locke fashion. (Skim.)
First, it is evident, that all children and idiots have not the least apprehension or thought of them; and the want of that is enough to destroy that universal assent, which must needs be the necessary concomitant of all innate truths: it seeming to me near a contradiction, to say, that there are truths imprinted on the soul, which it perceives or understands not; imprinting, if it signify any thing, being nothing else, but the making certain truths to be perceived. For to imprint any thing on the mind, without the mind’s perceiving it, seems to me hardly intelligible. If therefore children and idiots have souls, have minds, with those impressions upon them, they must unavoidably perceive them, and necessarily know and assent to these truths: which since they do not, it is evident that there are no such impressions. For if they are not notions naturally imprinted, how can they be innate? and if they are notions imprinted, how can they be unknown? To say a notion is imprinted on the mind, and yet at the same time to say, that the mind is ignorant of it, and never yet took notice of it, is to make this impression nothing. No proposition can be said to be in the mind, which it never yet knew, which it was never yet conscious of. For if any one may, then, by the same reason, all propositions that are true, and the mind is capable of ever assenting to, may be said to be in the mind, and to be imprinted: since, if any one can be said to be in the mind, which it never yet knew, it must be only, because it is capable of knowing it, and so the mind is of all truths it ever shall know. Nay, thus truths may be imprinted on the mind, which it never did, nor ever shall know: for a man may live long, and die at last in ignorance of many truths, which his mind was capable of knowing, and that with certainty. So that if the capacity of knowing, be the natural impression contended for, all the truths a man ever comes to know, will, by this account, be every one of them innate; and this great point will amount to no more, but only to a very improper way of speaking; which, whilst it pretends to assert the contrary, says nothing different from those, who deny innate principles.
No, he isn’t finished. On and on he goes, generating quite a lot of words and not a lot of sense. (And the charge of an “improper way of speaking” is a bit rich, coming from the author of ‘Morality capable of demonstration.’)
Ultimately, Locke’s philosophy fails because it hinges on an impossibly accurate and precise correspondence between words and things. He defines certain terms, thereby translating things into words; he reasons exhaustively with those words; finally, he translates the words back into things — which all sounds fine, except the natural-language correspondence between words (like “injustice”) and things (like grandmother stew) is never perfectly accurate or precise, so it has no chance at all of holding up under the terrible corrosive rigour of pure logic, which explodes the smallest of contradictions into infinite nonsense.
Politically speaking, though, the greater fault here is that nowhere in his interminable Essay does Locke explain whether or not “character” includes ability, cognitive or otherwise. Generations of Whigs have assumed, much to the detriment of science and education (not to mention immigration policy), that it does; in other words, all nurture, no nature. It should but probably doesn’t go without saying that this is not true.
But that’s not even what Locke was arguing — though again he seems to be making it as difficult as possible to discern the actual, trivial nature of his proposition; in this case, that babies don’t know very much. One would have to peruse Locke’s Conduct of the Understanding (1706), published only after his death:
There is, it is visible, great variety in men’s understandings, and their natural constitutions put so wide a difference between some men, in this respect, that art and industry would never be able to master; and their very natures seem to want a foundation to raise on it that which other men easily attain unto. — Amongst men of equal education there is great inequality of parts.
So there, at last, you have it: “their natural constitutions; their very natures.” And yet today, to choose just one example, visitors to How Stuff Works will learn:
Humans’ minds, according to Locke, are shaped solely by experience and education, rather than innate feelings and preordained character traits.
Now, Rousseau may or may not have understood The Conduct of the Understanding, but he must have perused the second of Locke’s Two Treatises of Civil Government (1690). Indeed, the latter book “furnished the Whig creed for the whole century before the French Revolution” (Graham, 1899). From Chapter 2:
To understand political power right, and derive it from its original, we must consider, what state all men are naturally in, and that is, a state of perfect freedom to order their actions, and dispose of their possessions and persons, as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of nature, without asking leave, or depending upon the will of any other man. A state also of equality, wherein all the power and jurisdiction is reciprocal, no one having more than another; there being nothing more evident, than that creatures of the same species and rank, promiscuously born to all the same advantages of nature, and the use of the same faculties, should also be equal one amongst another without subordination or subjection, unless the lord and master of them all should, by any manifest declaration of his will, set one above another, and confer on him, by an evident and clear appointment, an undoubted right to dominion and sovereignty.
Compare Hobbes’ “natural condition of mankind”:
There be no propriety, no dominion, no mine and thine distinct; but only that to be every man’s, that he can get; and for so long, as he can keep it.
Which sounds more like the “state all men are naturally in”? Locke continues:
But though this be a state of liberty, yet it is not a state of licence: though man in that state have an uncontroulable liberty to dispose of his person or possessions, yet he has not liberty to destroy himself, or so much as any creature in his possession, but where some nobler use than its bare preservation calls for it. The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges every one: and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions: for men being all the workmanship of one omnipotent, and infinitely wise maker; all the servants of one sovereign master, sent into the world by his order, and about his business; they are his property, whose workmanship they are, made to last during his, not one another’s pleasure: and being furnished with like faculties, sharing all in one community of nature, there cannot be supposed any such subordination among us, that may authorize us to destroy one another, as if we were made for one another’s uses, as the inferior ranks of creatures are for our’s. Every one, as he is bound to preserve himself, and not to quit his station wilfully, so by the like reason, when his own preservation comes not in competition, ought he, as much as he can, to preserve the rest of mankind, and may not, unless it be to do justice on an offender, take away, or impair the life, or what tends to the preservation of the life, the liberty, health, limb, or goods of another.
And that all men may be restrained from invading others rights, and from doing hurt to one another, and the law of nature be observed, which willeth the peace and preservation of all mankind, the execution of the law of nature is, in that state, put into every man’s hands, whereby every one has a right to punish the transgressors of that law to such a degree, as may hinder its violation: for the law of nature would, as all other laws that concern men in this world, be in vain, if there were no body that in the state of nature had a power to execute that law, and thereby preserve the innocent and restrain offenders. And if any one in the state of nature may punish another for any evil he has done, every one may do so: for in that state of perfect equality, where naturally there is no superiority or jurisdiction of one over another, what any may do in prosecution of that law, every one must needs have a right to do.
That all sounds real nice, but I thought this was supposed to be the “state all men are naturally in.” Now Locke says that in this “state of nature,” “no one ought to harm another”; they “may not take away, or impair the life of another”; everyone is “bound to preserve himself”; and “he has not liberty to destroy so much as any creature in his possession,” because the “law of nature,” which is “reason,” “obliges every one.”
Is Locke describing the actual state of nature (with its trees, ferns, polecats, etc.), as Rousseau evidently believed; a hypothetical, ideal state of nature; or Locke’s idea of good local government? This recalls Maine’s take on Rousseau’s natural history:
Whether it is meant that mankind did emerge in this way, whether the writer believes that only a happily circumstanced part of the human race had this experience, or whether he thinks that Nature, a beneficent legislatress, intended all men to have it, but that her objects were defeated, it is quite impossible to say with any confidence.
Polecat says: “I am in the state of nature” (image)
Ultimately, the question is: what does “natural” mean, if not — well, natural? Maybe “the wise Locke” can enlighten us. Go ahead, Locke.
It is often asked as a mighty objection, where are, or ever were there any men in such a state of nature? To which it may suffice as an answer at present, that since all princes and rulers of independent governments all through the world, are in a state of nature, it is plain the world never was, nor ever will be, without numbers of men in that state. I have named all governors of independent communities, whether they are, or are not, in league with others: for it is not every compact that puts an end to the state of nature between men, but only this one of agreeing together mutually to enter into one community, and make one body politic; other promises, and compacts, men may make one with another, and yet still be in the state of nature. The promises and bargains for truck, etc. between the two men in the desert island, mentioned by Garcilasso de la Vega, in his history of Peru; or between a Swiss and an Indian, in the woods of America, are binding to them, though they are perfectly in a state of nature, in reference to one another: for truth and keeping of faith belongs to men, as men, and not as members of society.
To those that say, there were never any men in the state of nature, […] I moreover affirm, that all men are naturally in that state, and remain so, till by their own consents they make themselves members of some politic society; and I doubt not in the sequel of this discourse, to make it very clear.
Oh, of course, two men on a desert island — assuming, that is, neither one of them “impairs the life, the liberty, health, limb, or goods” of the other! Because that would violate “reason,” the “law of nature,” and they would no longer be in that “state all men are naturally in,” for the sequel states:
And here we have the plain difference between the state of nature and the state of war, which however some men have confounded, are as far distant, as a state of peace, good will, mutual assistance and preservation, and a state of enmity, malice, violence and mutual destruction, are one from another. Men living together according to reason, without a common superior on earth, with authority to judge between them, is properly the state of nature. But force, or a declared design of force, upon the person of another, where there is no common superior on earth to appeal to for relief, is the state of war. […] Want of a common judge with authority, puts all men in a state of nature: force without right, upon a man’s person, makes a state of war, both where there is, and is not, a common judge.
To avoid this state of war (wherein there is no appeal but to heaven, and wherein every the least difference is apt to end, where there is no authority to decide between the contenders) is one great reason of men’s putting themselves into society, and quitting the state of nature.
Oh, I see: after redefining the word “naturally,” all men are “naturally” in a state of “nature,” which we define to be a state of peace, freedom and equality, governed by “the law of nature,” which we define to be reason. We know this because as soon as anyone does anything bad, we are by definition no longer in a state of “nature,” but a state of “war.” That can happen at any time, so we should probably leave the state of “nature” as quickly as possible. Anyway, we’ve shown that all men “naturally” have a right (whatever that means) to freedom and equality (whatever those are), which, let’s face it, makes for a great sound bite — as long as you don’t stop and think about it.
So deep (image)
Notice that, once again, Locke’s argument relies for its validity on strange definitions of words, and for its relevance on our own (or Rousseau’s own) intuitive definitions of the same words. Look, here’s his argument again, with a different word in place of “nature”: All men are hopefully in a state of hope, which is a state of peace, freedom and equality. After all, as soon as someone does something mean to someone else, that’s no longer a state of hope, but a state of sadness. So hopefully all men have the right to freedom and equality, because otherwise I will be sad.
Maybe I’m just not getting it. Reader, I must confess, Locke’s “natural law” is about as clear to me as mud, and one has to wonder if it was not so for Rousseau as well (not to mention Hamilton, Madison and Jefferson). So try, if you like, to make sense of Locke’s theory of how a “civil society” forms (should form?):
Man being born, as has been proved, with a title to perfect freedom, and an uncontrouled enjoyment of all the rights and privileges of the law of nature, equally with any other man, or number of men in the world, hath by nature a power, not only to preserve his property, that is, his life, liberty and estate, against the injuries and attempts of other men; but to judge of, and punish the breaches of that law in others, as he is persuaded the offence deserves, even with death itself, in crimes where the heinousness of the fact, in his opinion, requires it. But because no political society can be, nor subsist, without having in itself the power to preserve the property, and in order thereunto, punish the offences of all those of that society; there, and there only is political society, where every one of the members hath quitted this natural power, resigned it up into the hands of the community in all cases that exclude him not from appealing for protection to the law established by it. And thus all private judgment of every particular member being excluded, the community comes to be umpire, by settled standing rules, indifferent, and the same to all parties; and by men having authority from the community, for the execution of those rules, decides all the differences that may happen between any members of that society concerning any matter of right; and punishes those offences which any member hath committed against the society, with such penalties as the law has established: whereby it is easy to discern, who are, and who are not, in political society together. Those who are united into one body, and have a common established law and judicature to appeal to, with authority to decide controversies between them, and punish offenders, are in civil society one with another: but those who have no such common people, I mean on earth, are still in the state of nature, each being, where there is no other, judge for himself, and executioner; which is, as I have before shewed it, the perfect state of nature.
From this, Locke derives majority rule, as in: whatever the majority says shall be the rule, a clear predecessor of Rousseau’s “general will” (which “is always right”).
Men being, as has been said, by nature, all free, equal, and independent, no one can be put out of this estate, and subjected to the political power of another, without his own consent. The only way whereby any one divests himself of his natural liberty, and puts on the bonds of civil society, is by agreeing with other men to join and unite into a community, for their comfortable, safe, and peaceable living one amongst another, in a secure enjoyment of their properties, and a greater security against any, that are not of it. This any number of men may do, because it injures not the freedom of the rest; they are left as they were in the liberty of the state of nature. When any number of men have so consented to make one community or government, they are thereby presently incorporated, and make one body politic, wherein the majority have a right to act and conclude the rest.
For when any number of men have, by the consent of every individual, made a community, they have thereby made that community one body, with a power to act as one body, which is only by the will and determination of the majority: for that which acts any community, being only the consent of the individuals of it, and it being necessary to that which is one body to move one way; it is necessary the body should move that way whither the greater force carries it, which is the consent of the majority: or else it is impossible it should act or continue one body, one community, which the consent of every individual that united into it, agreed that it should; and so every one is bound by that consent to be concluded by the majority. And therefore we see, that in assemblies, impowered to act by positive laws, where no number is set by that positive law which impowers them, the act of the majority passes for the act of the whole, and of course determines, as having, by the law of nature and reason, the power of the whole.
Make of this what you will; Rousseau did, with what consequences we shall see…
Locke wrote his first Treatise specifically to rebut the elegant defense of monarchy laid out by Sir Robert Filmer (c. 1588–1653) in his wonderful, sadly neglected Patriarcha: The Natural Power of Kings (1680). Filmer begins:
Since the time that School-Divinity began to flourish, there hath been a common Opinion maintained, as well by Divines, as by divers other learned Men, which affirms,
Mankind is naturally endowed and born with Freedom from all Subjection, and at liberty to chose what Form of Government it please: And that the Power which any one Man hath over others, was at first bestowed according to the discretion of the Multitude.
This Tenent was first hatched in the Schools, and hath been fostered by all succeeding Papists for good Divinity. The Divines also of the Reformed Churches have entertained it, and the common People every where tenderly embrace it, as being most plausible to Flesh and blood, for that it prodigally destributes a Portion of Liberty to the meanest of the Multitude, who magnifie Liberty, as if the height of Humane Felicity were only to be found in it, never remembring That the desire of Liberty was the first Cause of the Fall of Adam.
But howsoever this Vulgar Opinion hath of late obtained a great Reputation, yet it is not to be found in the Ancient Fathers and Doctors of the Primitive Church: It contradicts the Doctrine and History of the Holy Scriptures, the constant Practice of all Ancient Monarchies, and the very Principles of the Law of Nature. It is hard to say whether it be more erroneous in Divinity, or dangerous in Policy.
Here, too, the laws of nature; here, too, the intellectuals (“School-Divinity”) against timeless tradition. But before going any further, Filmer cautions himself:
I am not to question, or quarrel at the Rights or Liberties of this or any other Nation, my task is chiefly to enquire from whom these first came, not to dispute what, or how many these are; but whether they were derived from the Laws of Natural Liberty, or from the Grace and bounty of Princes.
My desire and Hope is, that the people of England may and do enjoy as ample Priviledges as any Nation under Heaven; the greatest Liberty in the World (if it be duly considered) is for a people to live under a Monarch. It is the Magna Charta of this Kingdom, all other shews or pretexts of Liberty, are but several degrees of Slavery, and a Liberty only to destroy Liberty.
So: why monarchy? Well, why parents? Why teachers? Why not beat the family dog?
If we compare the Natural Rights of a Father with those of a King, we find them all one, without any difference at all but only in the Latitude or Extent of them: as the Father over one Family, so the King as Father over many Families extends his care to preserve, feed, cloth, instruct and defend the whole Commonwealth. His War, his Peace, his Courts of Justice, and all his Acts of Sovereignty tend only to preserve and distribute to every subordinate and inferiour Father, and to their Children, their Rights and Privileges; so that all the Duties of a King are summed up in an Universal Fatherly Care of his People.
It is in Chapter 2 that Filmer makes his formal case for monarchy:
Aristotle, in his Book of Politicks, when he comes to compare the several Kinds of Government, he is very reserved in discoursing what Form he thinks Best: he disputes subtilely to and fro of many Points, and Judiciously of many Errours, but concludes nothing himself. […] Yet in his Ethicks, he hath so much good Manners, as to confess in right down words, That Monarchy is the best Form of Government, and a Popular Estate the worst. And though he be not so free in his Politicks, yet the Necessity of Truth hath here and there extorted from him, that which amounts no less to the Dignity of Monarchy; he confesseth it to be First, the Natural, and the Divinest Form of Government; and that the Gods themselves did live under a Monarchy. What can a Heathen say more?
By the way, non-theists should have no trouble at all with this business of divine right. For “the will of God,” substitute Carlyle’s “Everlasting Laws of Nature.” Thus, according to divine right monarchy (Wik), “a monarch is subject to no earthly authority, deriving the right to rule directly from [the Everlasting Laws of Nature]”; “only [the Eternal Law of things] can judge an unjust king”; “any attempt to depose the king or to restrict his powers runs contrary to [the eternal regulation of the Universe]”; and so on. This, not a bearded man in the clouds, is the essential meaning of divine right.
Indeed, the World for a long time knew no other sort of Government, but only Monarchy. The Best Order, the Greatest Strength, the Most Stability, and easiest Government, are to be found all in Monarchy, and in no other Form of Government. The New Platforms of Commonweals were first hatched in a Corner of the World, amongst a few Cities of Greece, which have been imitated by very few other places. Those very Cities were first, for many Years, governed by Kings, untill Wantonness, Ambition, or Faction of the People, made them attempt new kinds of Regiment; all which Mutations proved most Bloody and Miserable to the Authors of them; happy in nothing, but that they continued but a small time.
If we will listen to the Judgment of those who should best know the Nature of Popular Government, we shall find no reason for good men to desire or choose it. Xenophon, that brave Scholar and Souldier disallowed the Athenian Common-weal, for that they followed that Form of Government wherein the Wicked are always in greatest Credit, and Vertuous men kept under. They expelled Aristides the Just; Themistocles died in Banishment; Meltiades in Prison; Phocion, the most virtuous and just man of his Age, though he had been chosen forty five times to be their General, yet he was put to Death with all his Friends, Kindred and Servants, by the Fury of the People, without Sentence, Accusation, or any Cause at All. Nor were the People of Rome much more favourable to their Worthies; they banished Rutilius, Metellus, Coriolanus, the Two Scipio’s and Tully: the worst men sped best; for as Xenophon saith of Athens, so Rome was a Sanctuary for all Turbulent, Discontented and Seditious Spirits. The Impunity of Wicked men was such, that upon pain of Death, it was forbidden all Magistrates to Condemn to Death, or Banish any Citizen, or to deprive him of his Liberty, or so much as to whip him for what Offence soever he had committed, either against the Gods or Men.
The Athenians sold Justice as they did other Merchandise; which made Plato call a Popular Estate a Fair, where every thing is to be sold. The Officers when they entered upon their Charge, would brag, they went to a Golden Harvest. The Corruption of Rome was such, that Marius and Pompey durst carry Bushels of Silver into the Assemblies, to purchase the Voices of the People. Many Citizens under their Grave Gowns, came Armed into their Publick Meetings, as if they went to War. Often contrary Factions fell to Blows, sometimes with Stones, and sometimes with Swords; the Blood hath been suckt up in the Market Places with Spunges; the River Tiber hath been filled with the Dead Bodies of the Citizens, and the common Privies stuffed full with them.
Well, that could just be a coincidence, couldn’t it?
If any man think these Disorders in Popular States were but Casual, or such as might happen under any kind of Government, he must know, that such Mischiefs are unavoidable, and of necessity do follow all Democratical Regiments; and the Reason is given, because the Nature of all People is, to desire Liberty without Restraint, which cannot be but where the Wicked bear Rule; and if the People should be so indiscreet, as to advance Vertuous Men, they lose their Power: for that, Good Men would favour none but the Good, which are always the fewer in Number; and the Wicked and Vicious (which is still the Greatest Part of the People) should be excluded from all Preferment, and in the end, by little and little, Wise Men should seize upon the State, and take it from the People.
Here is a point of agreement with Rousseau, who wrote: “It may be added that there is no government so subject to civil wars and intestine agitations as democratic or popular government, because there is none which has so strong and continual a tendency to change to another form, or which demands more vigilance and courage for its maintenance as it is.” But Filmer’s overall take is quite different:
There is nothing more uncertain than the People; their Opinions are as variable and sudden as Tempests; there is neither Truth nor Judgment in them; they are not led by Wisdom to judg of any thing, but by Violence and Rashness; nor put they any Difference between things True and False. After the manner of Cattel, they follow the Herd that goes before; they have a Custom always to favour the Worst and Weakest; they are most prone to Suspitions, and use to Condemn men for Guilty upon any false Suggestion; they are apt to believe all News, especially if it be sorrowful; and like Fame, they make it more in the Believing; when there is no Author, they fear those Evils which themselves have seigned; they are most desirous of New Stirrs and Changes, and are Enemies to Quiet and Rest; Whatsoever is Giddy or Head-strong, they account Man-like and Couragious; but whatsoever is Modest or Provident, seems sluggish; each Man hath a Care of his Particular, and thinks basely of the Common Good; they look upon Approaching Mischiefs as they do upon Thunder, only every Man wisheth it may not touch his own Person; it is the Nature of them, they must Serve basely, or Domineer proudly; for they know no Mean. Thus do they paint to the Life this Beast with many Heads. Let me give you the Cypher of their Form of Government; As it is begot by Sedition, so it is nourished by Arms: It can never stand without Wars, either with an Enemy abroad, or with Friends at Home. The only Means to preserve it, is, to have some powerful Enemies near, who may serve instead of a King to Govern it, that so, though they have not a King amongst them, yet they may have as good as a King Over them: For the common Danger of an Enemy keeps them in better Unity, than the Laws they make themselves.
Rousseau has a question: “It will be said that the despot assures his subjects civil tranquillity. Granted; but what do they gain, if the wars his ambition brings down upon them, his insatiable avidity, and the vexatious conduct of his ministers press harder on them than their own dissensions would have done? What do they gain, if the very tranquillity they enjoy is one of their miseries? Tranquillity is found also in dungeons; but is that enough to make them desirable places to live in?” Indeed, Sir Robert, what if the Queen should abuse Her subjects?
Many have exercised their Wits in parallelling the Inconveniencies of Regal and Popular Government; but if we will trust Experience before Speculations Philosophical, it cannot be denied, but this one Mischief of Sedition which necessarily waits upon all Popularity, weighs down all the Inconveniences that can be found in Monarchy, tho they were never so many. It is said, Skin for Skin, yea, all that a Man hath will he give for his Life; and a Man will give his Riches for the ransome of his Life. The way then to examine what proportion the mischiefs of Sedition and Tyranny have one to another, is to enquire in what kind of Government most Subjects have lost their Lives:
In other words, a body count.
Let Rome, which is magnified for her Popularity, and villisied for the Tyrannical Monsters the Emperours, furnish us with Examples. Consider whether the Cruelty of all the Tyrannical Emperours that ever ruled in this City, did ever spill a quarter of the Blood that was poured out in the last hundred Years of her glorious Commonwealth. The Murthers by Tyberius, Domitian, and Commodus, put all together, cannot match that Civil Tragedy which was acted in that one Sedition between Marius and Sylla, nay, even by Sylla’s part alone (not to mention the Acts of Marius) were fourscore and ten Senators put to Death, fifteen Consuls, two thousand and six hundred Gentlemen, and a hundred thousand others.
This was the Heighth of the Roman Liberty; Any Man might be killed that would. A Favour not fit to be granted under a Royal Government.
Since 1680, this has changed not a bit. Do please compare the “Tyrant” King George III to Stalin — or, for that matter, Roosevelt and Churchill. There is simply no such thing as a “Victorian Holocaust” (anti-history notwithstanding).
Rousseau, as we know, had other ideas. Let us now consider the consequences.
I mean, my God, these whack-jobs tried to chop my head off! (image)
Democracy, it is often said, means power to the people. That much I will concede: power, great power, ladled out to people — not great people, of course; that would be the dreaded aristocracy. (The Greek for good government — but what did the Greeks know? “Plato, Aristotle, Socrates… morons!”) No, power to great numbers of people, though “large sections” of them are, as Mencken points out, “wholly devoid of sense.” All for the best: “the general will is always right,” says Rousseau, “and tends to the public advantage.” Huzzah! So, in this way, people by the millions, entire demographics, are promoted (by democracy) into political entities — a sort of entity which, we observe from a glance at the history books, runs the occasional risk of assassination. What the assassination of a demographic entails, we will now see.
Prise du palais des Tuileries (1793) by Jean Duplessis-Bertaux (image)
What, then, is this Thing called La Révolution, which, like an Angel of Death, hangs over France, noyading, fusillading, fighting, gun-boring, tanning human skins? La Révolution is but so many Alphabetic Letters; a thing nowhere to be laid hands on, to be clapt under lock and key: where is it? what is it? It is the Madness that dwells in the hearts of men. In this man it is, and in that man; as a rage or as a terror, it is in all men. Invisible, impalpable; and yet no black Azrael, with wings spread over half a continent, with sword sweeping from sea to sea, could be a truer Reality.
One name from the multitude, whose will, it seems, is always right: Maximilien de Robespierre (Britannica, 1890).
Without the courage and wide tolerance which make a statesman, without the greatest qualities of an orator, without the belief in himself which marks a great man, nervous, timid, and suspicious, Robespierre yet believed in the doctrines of Rousseau with all his heart, and would have gone to death for them; and in the belief they would eventually succeed and regenerate France and mankind he was ready to work with unwearied patience.
The character of Robespierre when looked upon simply in light of his actions and his authenticated speeches, and apart from the innumerable legends which have grown up about it, is not a difficult one to understand. A well-educated and young lawyer, he might have acquired a good provincial practice and lived a happy provincial life had it not been for the Revolution. Like thousands of other young Frenchmen, he had read the works of Rousseau and taken them as gospel. Just at the very time in life when this illusion had not been destroyed by the realities of life, and without the experience which might have taught the futility of idle dreams and theories, he was elected to the states-general.
At Paris he was not understood till he met with audience of fellow-disciples of Rousseau at the Jacobin Club. His fanaticism won him supporters; his singularly sweet and sympathetic voice gained him hearers; and his upright life attracted the admiration of all. As matters approached nearer and nearer to the terrible crisis, he failed, except in the two instances of question of war and of the king’s trial, to show himself a statesman, for he had not the liberal views and practical instincts which made Mirabeau and Danton great men. His admission to the great committee gave him power, which he hoped to use for the establishment of his favourite theories, and for the same purpose he acquiesced in and even heightened the horrors of the Reign of Terror. It is here that the fatal mistake of allowing a theorist to have power appeared: Billaud-Varenne systematized the Terror because he believed it necessary for the safety of the country; Robespierre intensified it in order to carry out his own ideas and theories.
But the history of the French Revolution is familiar to all of us — or is it? We should probably make sure, lest the republicans wriggle off the hook. Maine:
Democracy is commonly described as having an inherent superiority over every other form of government. It is supposed to advance with an irresistible and preordained movement. It is thought to be full of the promise of blessings to mankind; yet if it fails to bring with it these blessings, or even proves to be prolific of the heaviest calamities, it is not held to deserve condemnation.
(He goes on, by the way, to characterize Robespierre, quite memorably, as “the homicidal pedant.”)
Much has been written on the mass insanity that seized France in 1789. I see no reason why we should settle for less than Carlyle’s own three-volume, 900-page French Revolution: A History (1837). “No one can hope to add anything to the philosophy of Mr. Carlyle’s wonderful book,” said Dickens, and if it was good enough for Dickens…
But I perceive that you are a busy bee, in no mood for three-volume anythings. D’accord: we skip ahead to Book V, Terror the Order of the Day. The scene is set:
We are now, therefore, got to that black precipitous Abyss; whither all things have long been tending; where, having now arrived on the giddy verge, they hurl down, in confused ruin; headlong, pellmell, down, down; — till Sansculottism have consummated itself; and in this wondrous French Revolution, as in a Doomsday, a World have been rapidly, if not born again, yet destroyed and engulfed. Terror has long been terrible: but to the actors themselves it has now become manifest that their appointed course is one of Terror; and they say, Be it so. “Que la Terreur soit à l’ordre du jour.”
Nantes and the Vendée in northwestern France (image)
The suspect may well tremble; but how much more the open rebels; — the Girondin Cities of the South! Revolutionary Army is gone forth, under Ronsin the Playwright; six thousand strong; in ‘red nightcap, in tricolor waistcoat, in black-shag trousers, black-shag spencer, with enormous moustachioes, enormous sabre, — in carmagnole complète;’ and has portable guillotines. Representative Carrier has got to Nantes, by the edge of blazing La Vendée, which Rossignol has literally set on fire: Carrier will try what captives you make, what accomplices they have, Royalist or Girondin: his guillotine goes always, va toujours; and his wool-capped ‘Company of Marat.’ Little children are guillotined, and aged men. Swift as the machine is, it will not serve; the Headsman and all his valets sink, worn down with work; declare that the human muscles can no more. Whereupon you must try fusillading; to which perhaps still frightfuler methods may succeed.
“Fusillading” — mass shootings — at Nantes (image)
What methods are those?
One begins to be sick of ‘death vomited in great floods.’ Nevertheless, hearest thou not, O Reader (for the sound reaches through centuries), in the dead December and January nights, over Nantes Town, — confused noises, as of musketry and tumult, as of rage and lamentation; mingling with the everlasting moan of the Loire waters there? Nantes Town is sunk in sleep; but Représentant Carrier is not sleeping, the wool-capped Company of Marat is not sleeping. Why unmoors that flatbottomed craft, that gabarre; about eleven at night; with Ninety Priests under hatches? They are going to Belle Isle? In the middle of the Loire stream, on signal given, the gabarre is scuttled; she sinks with all her cargo. ‘Sentence of Deportation,’ writes Carrier, ‘was executed vertically.’ The Ninety Priests, with their gabarre-coffin, lie deep! It is the first of the Noyades, what we may call Drownages, of Carrier; which have become famous forever.
“Noyading” — mass drownings — at Nantes (image)
Guillotining there was at Nantes, till the Headsman sank worn out: then fusillading ‘in the Plain of Saint-Mauve;’ little children fusilladed, and women with children at the breast; children and women, by the hundred and twenty; and by the five hundred, so hot is La Vendée: till the very Jacobins grew sick, and all but the Company of Marat cried, Hold! Wherefore now we have got Noyading; and on the 24th night of Frostarious year 2, which is 14th of December 1793, we have a second Noyade; consisting of ‘a Hundred and Thirty-eight persons.’
Or why waste a gabarre, sinking it with them? Fling them out; fling them out, with their hands tied: pour a continual hail of lead over all the space, till the last struggler of them be sunk! Unsound sleepers of Nantes, and the Sea-Villages thereabouts, hear the musketry amid the night-winds; wonder what the meaning of it is. And women were in that gabarre; whom the Red Nightcaps were stripping naked; who begged, in their agony, that their smocks might not be stript from them. And young children were thrown in, their mothers vainly pleading: “Wolflings,” answered the Company of Marat, “who would grow to be wolves.”
“Republican Marriage” at Nantes (image)
By degrees, daylight itself witnesses Noyades: women and men are tied together, feet and feet, hands and hands; and flung in: this they call Mariage Républicain, Republican Marriage. Cruel is the panther of the woods, the she-bear bereaved of her whelps: but there is in man a hatred crueler than that. Dumb, out of suffering now, as pale swoln corpses, the victims tumble confusedly seaward along the Loire stream; the tide rolling them back: clouds of ravens darken the River; wolves prowl on the shoal-places: Carrier writes, ‘Quel torrent révolutionnaire, What a torrent of Revolution!’ For the man is rabid; and the Time is rabid. These are the Noyades of Carrier; twenty-five by the tale, for what is done in darkness comes to be investigated in sunlight: not to be forgotten for centuries. — We will turn to another aspect of the Consummation of Sansculottism; leaving this as the blackest.
I cannot resist this cannibalistic aside:
One other thing, or rather two other things, we will still mention; and no more: The Blond Perukes; the Tannery at Meudon. Great talk is of these Perruques blondes: O Reader, they are made from the Heads of Guillotined women! The locks of a Duchess, in this way, may come to cover the scalp of a Cordwainer: her blond German Frankism his black Gaelic poll, if it be bald. Or they may be worn affectionately, as relics; rendering one suspect? Citizens use them, not without mockery; of a rather cannibal sort.
Still deeper into one’s heart goes that Tannery at Meudon; not mentioned among the other miracles of tanning! ‘At Meudon,’ says Montgaillard with considerable calmness, ‘there was a Tannery of Human Skins; such of the Guillotined as seemed worth flaying: of which perfectly good wash-leather was made;’ for breeches, and other uses. The skin of the men, he remarks, was superior in toughness (consistance) and quality to shamoy; that of women was good for almost nothing, being so soft in texture! —
History looking back over Cannibalism, through Purchas’s Pilgrims and all early and late Records, will perhaps find no terrestrial Cannibalism of a sort, on the whole, so detestable. It is a manufactured, soft-feeling, quietly elegant sort; a sort perfide! Alas then, is man’s civilisation only a wrappage, through which the savage nature of him can still burst, infernal as ever? Nature still makes him; and has an Infernal in her as well as a Celestial.
Massacre at Le Mans in December 1793 (image)
By the autumn of 1794, the Terror was over and Robespierre himself deservedly guillotined, but the Royalist revolt in the Vendée continued — for a time.
General Hoche has even succeeded in pacificating La Vendée. Rogue Rossignol and his ‘Infernal Columns’ have vanished: by firmness and justice, by sagacity and industry, General Hoche has done it. Taking ‘Movable Columns,’ not infernal; girdling-in the Country; pardoning the submissive, cutting down the resistive, limb after limb of the Revolt is brought under. La Rochejacquelin, last of our Nobles, fell in battle; Stofflet himself makes terms; Georges-Cadoudal is back to Brittany, among his Chouans: the frightful gangrene of La Vendée seems veritably extirpated. It has cost, as they reckon in round numbers, the lives of a Hundred Thousand fellow-mortals; with noyadings, conflagratings by infernal column, which defy arithmetic. This is the La Vendée War.
A fight involving women and children near a church in the Vendée (image)
If you couldn’t quite follow Carlyle’s narrative and are, for whatever reason, disinclined to read his entire French Revolution, here are two short histories of the War in the Vendée. Peruse, at your leisure, this piece in the New York Times (1989):
While Paris next month will exuberantly mark the fall of the Bastille and the proclamation of the rights of man, in the Vendee many other citizens will be in a somber mood when they remember a peasant uprising against the revolutionary authorities that provoked something resembling mass murder.
The repression of the Vendee revolt, which is thought to have taken 300,000 to 600,000 lives, is more than a bloody historical footnote. Even more than the better-known Reign of Terror, the time of the guillotine in Paris, it suggests that the French Revolution contained the ideological germs of the kind of limitless brutality more usually associated with totalitarian regimes of the 20th century.
And this one by Sophie Masson (2004):
In early 1794, the Convention decided to exterminate the Vendéens, to the last man, woman and child. And they found plenty who were happy to carry out these orders.
“Not one is to be left alive.” “Women are reproductive furrows who must be ploughed under.” “Only wolves must be left to roam that land.” “Fire, blood, death are needed to preserve liberty.” “Their instruments of fanaticism and superstition must be smashed.” These were some of the words the Convention used in speaking of Vendee.
The ci-devant aristocrat Turreau de la Linières took command of what are known in Vendée as the douze colonnes infernales (the twelve columns of hell), which had specific orders both from his superiors and from himself to kill everyone and everything they saw. “Even if there should be patriots in Vendée,” Turreau himself said, “they must not spared. We can make no distinction. The entire province must be a cemetery.” And so it was. In the streets of Cholet, emblematic Vendéen city, by the end of 1793, wolves were about the only living things left, roaming freely and feeding on the piles of decomposing corpses.
If the French Revolution was the first modern ideology, were the Vendée massacres the archetype of the modern genocides? And if that is so, what does it mean for the whole legacy of the Revolution?
Muskets blazing: even PBS wants in (image)
Of the various French Republics that have been tried, or that are still on trial, — of these also it is not needful to say any word. But there is one modern instance of Democracy nearly perfect, the Republic of the United States, which has actually subsisted for threescore years or more, with immense success as is affirmed; to which many still appeal, as to a sign of hope for all nations, and a ‘Model Republic.’ Is not America an instance in point? Why should not all Nations subsist and flourish on Democracy as America does?
So wrote Carlyle in the Latter-Day Pamphlets (1850). Surely the legacy of democratic revolution in general — if not, in particular, the French or Russian or Cuban or Chinese or Mexican — is redeemed by the American experiment! Well, no, says Carlyle:
Their Constitution, such as it may be, was made here, not there; went over with them from the Old Puritan English workshop, ready-made. Deduct what they carried with them from England ready-made, — their common English Language and that same Constitution, or rather elixir of constitutions, their inveterate and now, as it were inborn, reverence for the Constable’s Staff; two quite immense attainments which England had to spend much blood, and valiant sweat of brow and brain, for centuries long in achieving; — and what new elements of polity or nationhood, what noble new phasis of human arrangement, or social device worthy of Prometheus or of Epimetheus, yet comes to light in America? Cotton crops and Indian corn and dollars come to light; and half a world of untilled land, where populations that respect the constable can live, for the present, without Government: this comes to light; and the profound sorrow of all nobler hearts, here uttering itself as silent patient unspeakable ennui, there coming out as vague elegiac wailings, that there is still next to nothing more. ‘Anarchy plus a street constable:’ that also is anarchic to me, and other than quite lovely!
I foresee too that, long before the waste lands are full, the very street-constable, on these poor terms, will have become impossible: without the waste lands, as here in our Europe, I do not see how he conld continue possible many weeks. Cease to brag to me of America, and its model institutions and constitutions. To men in their sleep there is nothing granted in this world: nothing, or as good as nothing, to men that sit idly caucusing and ballot-boxing on the graves of their heroic ancestors, saying, “It is well, it is well!” Corn and bacon are granted: not a very sublime boon, on such conditions; a boon moreover which, on such conditions, cannot last! — No: America too will have to strain its energies, in quite other fashion than this; to crack its sinews, and all but break its heart, as the rest of us have had to do, in thousand-fold wrestle with the Pythons and mud-demons, before it can become a habitation for the gods. America’s battle is yet to fight; and we, sorrowful though nothing doubting, will wish her strength for it. New Spiritual Pythons, plenty of them; enormous Megatherions, as ugly as were ever born of mud, loom huge and hideous out of the twilight Future on America; and she will have her own agony, and her own victory, but on other terms than she is yet quite aware of.
Oh, how right he was — but let us begin again, at the beginning.
When teaching small children the tale of the American Rebellion (Issue 4), it is very important to avoid any intrusion by reality, a well known source of Loyalist tricks and traps. Scholastic, “the world’s largest publisher and distributor of children’s books,” is here to help, with ‘Give Me Liberty!’, suitable for rebels in grades six through eight:
Russell Freedman’s Give Me Liberty! The Story of the Declaration of Independence recounts the American colonists’ arduous journey to freedom in a richly detailed narrative, complete with prints and illustrations. Reading Freedman’s words, the reader is transported back in time and ready to join the fight for independence.
Through the aid of Give Me Liberty!, students will learn about freedom and self expression, in the process they will learn about differing viewpoints.
Pass out a list of invented rules that infringe on the students’ personal rights and freedoms. Possible rules include:
- You may only write in blue ink. If you write in any other color, you will receive detention.
- The price of school lunch has been raised three dollars.
- You cannot wear jeans to school. Anyone wearing jeans will be suspended.
As a recommended follow-up activity, we are to ask our students: “What did you learn about the pursuit of freedom? Why is independence important/not important?” Probing questions indeed. Freedom is cool, man. (And Brawndo’s got what plants crave.)
Better yet, pass out this list of slightly more historically accurate rules:
- You may only write in blue ink. If you use your blue ink to poison the Principal’s Tea, you will receive detention. While in detention, write many long Treatises on popular government. Sharpen your bayonet.
- The price of school lunch has been raised three cents. Your Rights are being trampled! Loot the cafeteria! Dump the French fries in the Bay! Hang the Hall Monitor! Poison the Principal’s Tea!!!
- Due to a recent outbreak of poisoned tea, the Principal has posted a Tea Guard at each classroom. The mad Tyrant has gone too far! Clearly this infringes upon Several Rights. Negotiations would fail if we tried them, so why even Bother. Thus, we are left with no choice but to poison the Usurper’s Tea again.
Then have your students read Thomas Hutchinson’s Strictures upon the Declaration of the Congress at Philadelphia (1776):
The Last time I had the honour of being in your Lordships company, you observed that you was utterly at a loss to what facts many parts of the Declaration of Independence published by the Philadelphia Congress referred, and that you wished they had been more particularly mentioned, that you might better judge of the grievances, alleged as special causes of the separation of the Colonies from the other parts of the Empire. This hint from your Lordship induced me to attempt a few Strictures upon the Declaration.
Upon my first reading it, I thought there would have been more policy in leaving the World altogether ignorant of the motives of the Rebellion, than in offering such false and frivolous reasons in support of it; and I flatter myself, that before I have finished this letter, your Lordship will be of the same mind.
For instance, I seem to remember Thomas Jefferson saying something about “swarms.” What was it, again? Oh, right: “He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.” Look out! Swarms! What do you say, Governor Hutchinson?
I know of no new offices erected in America in the present reign, except those of the Commissioners of the Customs and their dependents. Five Commissioners were appointed, and four Surveyors General dismissed; perhaps fifteen to twenty clerks and under officers were necessary for this board more than the Surveyors had occasion for before: Land and tide waiters, weighers, etc. were known officers before; the Surveyors used to increase or lessen the number as the King’s service required, and the Commissioners have done no more. Thirty or forty additional officers in the whole Continent, are the Swarms which eat out the substance of the boasted number of three millions of people.
As a follow-up activity, ask your students: “What did you learn about the essential role of mob violence in democratic revolutions? Also, when we break into the principal’s house tonight, should we murder his children first, or murder them later? Why is murdering the principal’s children in their beds important/not important to the pursuit of freedom?” Oh, did your civics teacher not mention that? I refer you to Peter Oliver’s Origin and Progress of the American Rebellion: A Tory View (1781), Chapter 3:
In this Year 1765, began the violent Outrages in Boston: and now the Effusions of Rancour from Mr. Otis’s Heart were brought into Action. It hath been said, that he had secured the Smugglers & their Connections, as his Clients. An Opportunity now offered for them to convince Government of their Influence: as Seizure had been made by breaking open a Store, agreeable to act of Parliament; it was contested in the supreme Court, where Mr. Hutchinson praesided. The Seizure was adjudged legal by the whole Court.
This raised Resentment against the Judges, Mr. Hutchinson was the only Judge who resided in Boston, & he only, of the Judges, was the Victim; for in a short Time after, the Mob of Otis & his clients plundered Mr. Hutchinsons House of its full Contents, destroyed his Papers, unroofed his House, & sought his & his Children’s Lives, which were saved by Flight. One of the Rioters declared, the next morning, that the first Places which they looked into were the Beds, in Order to Murder the Children. All this was Joy to Mr. Otis, as also to some of the considerable Merchants who were smugglers, & personally active in the diabolical Scene. But a grave old Gentleman thought it more than diabolical; for upon viewing the Ruins, on the next Day, he made this Remark, vizt. “that if the Devil had been here the last Night, he would have gone back to his own Regions, ashamed of being outdone, & never more have set Foot upon the Earth.” If so, what Pity that he did not take an Evening Walk, at that unhappy Crisis; for he hath often since seen himself outdone at his own outdoings.
The Mob, also, on the same Evening, broke into the Office of the Register of the Admiralty, & did considerable Damage there; but were prevented from an utter Destruction of it. They also sought after the Custom House Officers; but they secreted themselves — these are some of the blessed Effects of smuggling. And so abandoned from all Virtue were the Minds of the People of Boston, that when the Kings Attorny examined many of them, on Oath, who were Spectators of the Scene & knew the Actors, yet they exculpated them before a Grand Jury; & others, who were Men of Reputation, avoided giving any Evidence, thro’ Fear of the like Fate. Such was the Reign of Anarchy in Boston, & such the very awkward Situation in which every Friend to Government stood. Mr. Otis & his mirmydons, the Smugglers & the black Regiment, had instilled into the Canaille, that Mr. Hutchinson had promoted the Stamp Act; whereas, on the Contrary, he not only had drawn up the decent Memorial of the Massachusetts Assembly, but, previous to it, he had repeatedly wrote to his Friends in England to ward it off, by shewing the Inexpedience of it; & the Disadvantages that would accrue from it to the english Nation, but it was in vain to struggle against the Law of Otis, & the Gospel of his black Regiment. That worthy Man must be a Victim; Mr. Otis said so, & it was done.
Such was the Frenzy of Anarchy, that every Man was jealous of his Neighbour, & seemed to wait for his Turn of Destruction.
“Mr. Otis” is James Otis, Jr., one of America’s lesser-known Founding Fathers. His catchphrase was “Taxation without representation is tyranny,” and he died from being struck by lightning. Why was the young Otis so fiercely Patriotic? Well, for a time he held a prestigious position as Advocate General of the Admiralty Court, which was about as un-Patriotic as you could get. (For example, the infamous Stamp Act fell within the Court’s jurisdiction.) Otis resigned, and took up the smugglers’ — I mean, the Patriots’ case against Writs of Assistance when the governor appointed Thomas Hutchinson Chief Justice of the Superior Court — instead of Otis’ father.
All right, so the American Revolution, like every other revolution, basically ran on mob violence, and the reasons for the revolution, set out in the Declaration of Independence, upon closer inspection, turn out to make no sense at all. Still, things must have settled down once the Patriots won their Revolutionary War and ratified the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union (1777). Right?
Well, not exactly. And while many people know that the Articles of Confederation were replaced by the Constitution (1787) just a few years later, not many know why. So let’s learn a little bit about the Continental Congress. Our source: senator and historian Albert J. Beveridge’s Life of John Marshall (1916–1919), Chapter 8:
There was, even while the patriots were fighting for our independence, a considerable part of the people who considered “all government as dissolved, and themselves in a state of absolute liberty, where they wish always to remain;” and they were strong enough in many places “to prevent any courts being opened, and to render every attempt to administer justice abortive.” Zealous bearers, these, of the torches of anarchy which Paine’s burning words had lighted. Was it not the favored of the earth that government protected? What did the poor and needy get from government except oppression and the privilege of dying for the boon? Was not government a fortress built around property? What need, therefore, had the lowly for its embattled walls?
Here was excellent ammunition for the demagogue. A person of little ability and less character always could inflame a portion of the people when they could be assembled. It was not necessary for him to have property; indeed, that was a distinct disadvantage to the Jack Cades of the period. A lie traveled like a snake under the leaves and could not be overtaken; bad roads, scattered communities, long distances, and resultant isolation leadened and delayed the feet of truth. Nothing was too ridiculous for belief; nothing too absurd to be credited.
Things, praiseworthy in themselves, were magnified into stupendous and impending menaces. Revolutionary officers formed “The Society of the Cincinnati” in order to keep in touch with one another, preserve the memories of their battles and their campfires, and to support the principles for which they had fought. Yet this patriotic and fraternal order was, shouted the patriots of peace, a plain attempt to establish an hereditary nobility on which a new tyranny was to be builded. Jefferson, in Paris, declared that “the day … will certainly come, when a single fibre of this institution will produce an hereditary aristocracy which will change the form of our governments [Articles of Confederation] from the best to the worst in the world.”
Nor did this popular tendency to credit the most extraordinary tale, believe the most impossible and outrageous scandal, or accept the most impracticable and misshapen theory, end only in wholesome hatred of rank and distinction. Among large numbers there was the feeling that equality should be made real by a general division of property. Three years after peace had been established, Madison said he “strongly suspected” that many of the people contemplated “an abolition of debts public & private, and a new division of property.” And Jay thought that “a reluctance to taxes, an impatience of government, a rage for property, and little regard to the means of acquiring it, together with a desire for equality in all things, seem to actuate the mass of those who are uneasy in their circumstances.” The greed and covetousness of the people is also noted by all travelers.
If there was not money enough, let the Government make more — what was a government for if not for that? And if government could not make good money, what was the good of government? Courts were fine examples of what government meant — they were always against the common people. Away with them! So ran the arguments and appeals of the demagogues and they found an answer in the breasts of the thoughtless, the ignorant, and the uneasy. This answer was broader than the demand for paper money, wider than the protest against particular laws and specific acts of administration. This answer also was, declared General Knox, “that the property of the United States … ought to be the common property of all. And he that attempts opposition to this creed is an enemy to equity and justice, and ought to be swept from off the face of the earth.” Knox was convinced that the discontented were “determined to annihilate all debts, public and private.”
Ideas and purposes such as these swayed the sixteen thousand men who, in 1787, followed Daniel Shays in the popular uprising in Massachusetts against taxes, courts, and government itself. “The restlessness produced by the uneasy situation of individuals, connected with lax notions concerning public and private faith, and erroneous opinions which confound liberty with an exemption from legal control, produced … unlicensed conventions, which, after voting on their own constitutionality, and assuming the name of the people, arrayed themselves against the legislature,” was John Marshall’s summary of the forces that brought about the New England rebellion.
Shays’ Rebellion is best known for its attack on the Springfield Armory in January 1787, which was repelled by a militia raised by General William Shepard (Minot, 1788):
While affairs were in this critical slate, General Shepard, about 4 o’clock in the afternoon of the 25th, perceived Shays advancing on the Boston road, towards the arsenal where the militia were posted, with his troops in open column. Possessed of the importance of that moment, in which the first blood should be drawn in the contest, the General sent one of his aids with two other gentlemen, several times, to know the intention of the enemy, and to warn them of their danger. The purport of their answer was, that they would have possession of the barracks; and they immediately marched onwards to within 250 yards of the arsenal. A message was again sent to inform them, that the militia were polled there by order of the Governour, and of Congress, and that if they approached nearer, they would be fired upon.
To this, one of their leaders replied, that that was all they wanted; and they advanced one hundred yards further. Necessity now compelled General Shepard to fire, but his humanity did not desert him. He ordered the two first shot to be directed over their heads; this however, instead of retarding, quickened their approach; and the artillery was at last, pointed at the centre of their column. This measure was not without its effect. A cry of murder arose from the rear of the insurgents, and their whole body was thrown into the utmost confusion. Shays attempted to display his column, but it was in vain. His troops retreated with precipitation to Ludlow, about ten miles from the place of action, leaving three of their men dead, and one wounded on the field.
This was “only a local outburst of a general feeling throughout the United States” (Beveridge); “was therefore but an extreme example of democratic excess in the aftermath of the War” (Wik). But let’s get back to Beveridge:
This condition brought to a head a distrust of the good sense, justice, and moderation of the people, which had been forming in the minds of many of the best and ablest men of the time. “The knaves and fools of this world are forever in alliance,” was the conclusion reached in 1786 by Jay, who thought that the people considered “liberty and licentiousness” as the same thing. The patient but bilious Secretary of State felt that “the wise and the good never form the majority of any large society, and it seldom happens that their measures are uniformly adopted, or that they can always prevent being overborne themselves by the strong and almost never-ceasing union of the wicked and the weak.” The cautious Madison was equally doubtful of the people: “There are subjects to which the capacities of the bulk of mankind are unequal and on which they must and will be governed by those with whom they happen to have acquaintance and confidence” was Madison’s judgment.
Washington, black with depression, decided and bluntly said “that mankind, when left to themselves, are unfit for their own government.” Lee had suggested that Washington use his “influence” to quiet the disorders in New England; but, flung back Washington, “Influence is no government. Let us have one by which our lives, liberties, and properties will be secured, or let us know the worst at once…. To be more exposed in the eyes of the world, and more contemptible than we already are, is hardly possible.”
“No morn ever dawned more favorably than ours did; and no day was ever more clouded than the present…. We are fast verging to anarchy,” cried the great captain of our war for liberty. The wings of Washington’s wrath carried him far. “Good God!” cried he, “Who, besides a Tory, could have foreseen, or a Briton predicted” the things that were going on! “The disorders which have arisen in these States, the present prospect of our affairs … seems to me to be like the vision of a dream. My mind can scarcely realize it as a thing in actual existence…. There are combustibles in every State, which a spark might set fire to.”
Marshall echoed his old commander’s views. The dreams of his youth were fading, his confidence in the people declining. He records for us his altered sentiments: “These violent, I fear bloody, dissensions in a state [Massachusetts] I had thought inferior in wisdom and virtue to no one in the union, added to the strong tendency which the politics of many eminent characters among ourselves have to promote private and public dishonesty, cast a deep shade over the bright prospect which the revolution in America and the establishment of our free governments had opened to the votaries of liberty throughout the globe. I fear, and there is no opinion more degrading to the dignity of man, that these have truth on their side who say that man is incapable of governing himself.” Thus wrote Marshall in 1787, when he was not yet thirty-two years old.
And if man truly is incapable of governing himself — who, then, shall govern him?
The intellectuals have some ideas…
But it’s very important that we keep calling it “democracy” (image)
“Were there no combinations, no railroad jobs, no mining schemes put through in connection with the election?”
“Not that I know,” said Bigler, shaking his head in disgust. “In fact, it was openly said that there was no money in the election. It’s perfectly unheard of.”
“Whatever it is,” interrupted Mr. Bigler, “it’s devilish ingenious and goes ahead of my calculations; it’s cleaned me out, when I thought we had a dead sure thing. I tell you what it is, gentlemen, I shall go in for reform. Things have got pretty mixed when a legislature will give away a United States Senatorship.”
It was melancholy, but Mr. Bigler was not a man to be crushed by one misfortune, or to lose his confidence in human nature on one exhibition of apparent honesty.
Mark Twain, The Gilded Age (1873)
Executive power and patronage have been used to corrupt our legislatures and defeat the will of the people, and plutocracy has thereby been enthroned upon the ruins of democracy.
Platform: Populist Party (1896)
In his 1901 president’s address to the American Historical Association, An Undeveloped Function, Charles Francis Adams II (1835–1915), a former Union colonel (grandson and great-grandson of presidents), lamented the state of political discourse in his country:
Twelve presidential canvasses, and six great national debates have thus been passed in rapid review. It is as if, in the earlier history of the country we had run the gamut from Washington to Van Buren. Taken as a whole, viewed in gross and perspective, the retrospect leaves much to be desired. That the debates held in Ireland and France during the same time have been on a distinctly lower level, I at once concede. Those held in Great Britain and Germany have not been on a higher. Yet ours have at best been only relatively educational; as a rule extremely partizan, they have been personal, often scurrilous, and intentionally deceptive. One fact is, however, salient. With the exception of the first, that of 1856–1860, not one of the debates reviewed has left an utterance which, were it to die from human memory, would by posterity be accounted a loss.
This, I am aware, is a sweeping allegation; in itself almost an indictment. Yet with some confidence I challenge a denial. Those here are not as a rule in their first youth, and they have all of them been more or less students of history. Let each pass in rapid mental review the presidential canvasses in which he has in any degree participated, and endeavor to recall a single utterance which has stood the test of time as marking a distinct addition to mankind’s intellectual belongings, the classics of the race. It has been at best a babel of the place. I do not believe one utterance can be named, for which a life of ten years will be predicted. Such a record undeniably admits of improvement. Two questions then naturally suggest themselves: To what has this shortcoming been due? Wherein lies the remedy for it?
The shortcoming, I submit, is in greatest part due to the fact that the work of discussion has been left almost wholly to the journalist and the politician, the professional journalist and the professional politician; and, in the case of both there has in this country during the last forty years, been, so far as grasp of principle is concerned, a marked tendency to deterioration. Nor, I fancy, is the cause of this far to seek. It is found in the growth, increased complexity and irresistible power of organization as opposed to individuality, in the parlance of the day it is the all-potency of the machine over the man, equally noticeable whether by that word “machine” we refer to the political organization or to the newspaper.
We recognize at once Mosca’s Iron Law of Oligarchy (Michels, 1915):
According to this view, the government, or, if the phrase be preferred, the state, cannot be anything other than the organization of a minority. It is the aim of this minority to impose upon the rest of society a “legal order,” which is the outcome of the exigencies of dominion and of the exploitation of the mass of helots effected by the ruling minority, and can never be truly representative of the majority. The majority is thus permanently incapable of self-government. Even when the discontent of the masses culminates in a successful attempt to deprive the bourgeoisie of power, this is after all, so Mosca contends, effected only in appearance; always and necessarily there springs from the masses a new organized minority which raises itself to the rank of a governing class.
But let’s get back to Adams and his newly discovered function of the intellectuals:
The source of trouble being located in the tendency to excessive organization, it would seem natural that the counteracting agency should be looked for in an exactly opposite direction — that is, in the increased efficacy of individualism. Of this, I submit, it is not necessary to go far in search of indications. Take, for instance, the examples already referred to, of Mr. Schurz and President White, in the canvass of 1896, and suppose for a moment efforts such as theirs then were made more effective as resulting from the organized action of an association like this.
Basically, Senator Carl Schurz and Andrew D. White, the first president of the AHA, supported the gold standard and opposed monetizing silver, which would have been inflationary. This is not important. The idea of organized political action by an academic institution, on the other hand, might just be.
Our platform at once becomes a rostrum, and a rostrum from which a speaker of reputation and character is insured a wide hearing. His audience too is there to listen, and repeat. From such a rostrum, the observer, the professor, the student, be it of economy, of history, or of philosophy, might readily be brought into immediate contact with the issues of the day. So bringing him is but a step. He would appear, also, in his proper character and place, the scholar having his say in politics; but always as a scholar, not as an office-holder or an aspirant for office. His appeal would be to intelligence and judgment, not to passion or self-interest, or even to patriotism.
Congress has all along been but a clumsy recording machine of conclusions worked out in the laboratory and machine-shop; and yet the idea is still deeply seated in the minds of men otherwise intelligent that, to effect political results, it is necessary to hold office, or at least to be a politician and to be heard from the hustings. Is not the exact reverse more truly the case? The situation may not be, indeed it certainly is not, as it should be; it may be, I hold that it is, unfortunate that the scholar and investigator are finding themselves more and more excluded from public life by the professional with an aptitude for the machine, but the result is none the less patent. On all the issues of real moment, — issues affecting anything more than a division of the spoils or the concession of some privilege of exaction from the community, it is the student, the man of affairs and the scientist who to-day, in last resort, closes debate and shapes public policy. His is the last word. How to organize and develop his means of influence is the question.
“More and more excluded from public life.” Hmm.
As I have also, more than once already, observed, this Association is largely made up of those occupying the chairs of instruction in our seminaries of the higher education. From their lecture rooms the discussion of current political issues is of necessity excluded. There it is manifestly out of place. Others here are scholars for whom no place exists on the political platform. Still others are historical investigators and writers, interested only incidentally in political discussion. Finally some are merely public-spirited citizens, on whom the oratory of the stump palls. They crave discussion of another order. They are the men whose faces are seen only at those gatherings which some one eminent for thought or in character is invited to address. To all such, the suggestion I now make cannot but be grateful.
It is that, in future, this Association, as such, shall so arrange its meetings that one at least shall be held in the month of July preceding each presidential election. The issues of that election will then have been presented, and the opposing candidates named. It should be understood that the meeting is held for the purpose of discussing those issues from the historical point of view, and in their historical connection. Absolute freedom of debate should be insisted on, and the participation of those best qualified to deal with the particular class of problems under discussion, should be solicited. Such authorities, speaking from so lofty a rostrum to a select audience of appreciative men and women could, I confidently submit, hardly fail to elevate the standard of discussion, bringing the calm lessons of history to bear on the angry wrangles and distorted presentations of those whose chief, if not only, aim is a mere party supremacy.
Well, well, well. It seems to me (evidence will, of course, follow) that the scholar no longer finds himself excluded from public life. No, not at all! We welcome the contributions of the scholar, writer, and historical investigator; interested, though they may be, only “incidentally” in political power — I mean, impact. (Totally different.)
In the state of Wisconsin, now perhaps the best governed of all our states, the University writes the laws that go on the statute books, University professors guide and control the main departments of state administration and inquiry; there is no limit to the financial resources which a grateful people are placing at the disposal of learning, thus consecrated to the service of the commonwealth. Our more ancient seats of learning pride themselves justly on their antiquity, on their dignity, on the reverence in which they are held, on the great names that have been and are associated with them. But it is yet theirs to reign over empires now undreamed; to inherit a kingdom that has awaited them from the foundation of the world; to write the laws of obedient states; to know the love of a reverent, grateful, and generous people; to
“Scatter plenty o’er a smiling land
And read their history in a nation’s eyes.”
Truly America was making great strides toward Gates’ “beautiful dream,” which is not at all weird and creepy:
In our dream, we have limitless resources, and the people yield themselves with perfect docility to our molding hands. The present educational conventions fade from their minds; and, unhampered by tradition, we work our own good will upon a grateful and responsive rural folk. We shall not try to make these people or any of their children into philosophers or men of learning or of science. We are not to raise up from among them authors, orators, poets, or men of letters. We shall not search for embryo great artists, painters, musicians. Nor will we cherish even the humbler ambition to raise up from among them lawyers, doctors, preachers, politicians, statesmen, of whom we now have ample supply. […] For the task that we set before ourselves is very simple as well as a very beautiful one: to train these people as we find them to a perfectly ideal life just where they are.
If you haven’t read Brave New World (Issue 10) recently, I suggest you do so now-ish.
Another man who welcomed the scholar’s growing influence on American politics was Walter Lippmann (1889–1974), journalist and founder of the New Republic, “the gold standard for Progressive liberal journalism” (Heritage). Lippmann’s book Public Opinion (1922) is a classic which everyone should read and no one should read uncritically.
The world that we have to deal with politically is out of reach, out of sight, out of mind. It has to be explored, reported, and imagined.
Those features of the world outside which have to do with the behavior of other human beings, in so far as that behavior crosses ours, is dependent upon us, or is interesting to us, we call roughly public affairs. The pictures inside the heads of these human beings, the pictures of themselves, of others, of their needs, purposes, and relationship, are their public opinions. Those pictures which are acted upon by groups of people, or by individuals acting in the name of groups, are Public Opinion with capital letters. And so in the chapters which follow we shall inquire first into some of the reasons why the picture inside so often misleads men in their dealings with the world outside.
There follows an analysis of the traditional democratic theory of public opinion. The substance of the argument is that democracy in its original form never seriously faced the problem which arises because the pictures inside people’s heads do not automatically correspond with the world outside.
I argue that representative government, either in what is ordinarily called politics, or in industry, cannot be worked successfully, no matter what the basis of election, unless there is an independent, expert organization for making the unseen facts intelligible to those who have to make the decisions. I attempt, therefore, to argue that the serious acceptance of the principle that personal representation must be supplemented by representation of the unseen facts would alone permit a satisfactory decentralization, and allow us to escape from the intolerable and unworkable fiction that each of us must acquire a competent opinion about all public affairs.
It is argued that the problem of the press is confused because the critics and the apologists expect the press to realize this fiction, expect it to make up for all that was not foreseen in the theory of democracy, and that the readers expect this miracle to be performed at no cost or trouble to themselves. The newspapers are regarded by democrats as a panacea for their own defects, whereas analysis of the nature of news and of the economic basis of journalism seems to show that the newspapers necessarily and inevitably reflect, and therefore, in greater or lesser measure, intensify the defective organization of public opinion.
My conclusion is that public opinions must be organized for the press if they are to be sound, not by the press as is the case today. This organization I conceive to be in the first instance the task of a political science that has won its proper place as formulator, in advance of real decision, instead of apologist, critic, or reporter after the decision has been made. I try to indicate that the perplexities of government and industry are conspiring to give political science this enormous opportunity to enrich itself and to serve the public. And, of course, I hope that these pages will help a few people to realize that opportunity more vividly, and therefore to pursue it more consciously.
And that’s just the introduction. From Chapter 15, ‘Leaders and the Rank and File’:
That the manufacture of consent is capable of great refinements no one, I think, denies. The process by which public opinions arise is certainly no less intricate than it has appeared in these pages, and the opportunities for manipulation open to anyone who understands the process are plain enough.
The creation of consent is not a new art. It is a very old one which was supposed to have died out with the appearance of democracy. But it has not died out. It has, in fact, improved enormously in technic, because it is now based on analysis rather than on rule of thumb. And so, as a result of psychological research, coupled with the modern means of communication, the practice of democracy has turned a corner. A revolution is taking place, infinitely more significant than any shifting of economic power.
Within the life of the generation now in control of affairs, persuasion has become a self-conscious art and a regular organ of popular government. None of us begins to understand the consequences, but it is no daring prophecy to say that the knowledge of how to create consent will alter every political calculation and modify every political premise. Under the impact of propaganda, not necessarily in the sinister meaning of the word alone, the old constants of our thinking have become variables. It is no longer possible, for example, to believe in the original dogma of democracy; that the knowledge needed for the management of human affairs comes up spontaneously from the human heart. Where we act on that theory we expose ourselves to self-deception, and to forms of persuasion that we cannot verify. It has been demonstrated that we cannot rely upon intuition, conscience, or the accidents of casual opinion if we are to deal with the world beyond our reach.
Not necessarily sinister, this business, you see.
Today’s progressive scholar, particularly in the political and social pseudosciences, is pleasantly surprised to discover the scope of her, shall we say, “influence” on “administrative procedural outcomes,” and the magnitude of her “impact” on “public policy decision-making,” not to mention the burden of her “responsibility” to “exercise global leadership” — none of which should ever be confused with any sort of power with which to rule anyone. That power, of course, as ever, rests with the People.
I suppose it’s easy to be surprised if you haven’t been paying attention for the last hundred years.
Patricia Limerick is “an American historian, considered to be one of the leading historians of the American West,” but the professor of history seems to have a bit of a blind spot for the history of history professors (2008):
It is hard for me to remember why other academics choose to feel marginalized in American life.
Come on in, the water’s fine!, I would like to say to graduate students and assistant professors. There is certainly plenty of room in this pool. In the early 21st century, there is no limit or constraint on the desire of public constituencies to profit from the perspective of a university-based historian.
“No limit or constraint.”
Even better, the usual lament of the humanities — “There is plenty of money to support work in science and engineering, but very little to support work in the humanities” — proves to be accurate only if you define “work in the humanities” in the narrowest and most conventional way. If, by that phrase, you mean only individualistic research, directed at arcane topics detached from real-world needs and written in inaccessible and insular jargon, there is indeed very limited money.
But for a humanities professor willing to take up applied work, sources of money are unexpectedly abundant. There is no need for humanities professors to waste any more time envying the resources available to scientists and engineers. Instead, you can offer to play Virgil to their Dante, guiding them through the inferno of cultural anxieties, laypeople’s misunderstandings, and political landmines.
I almost cannot believe this paragraph was published. Set aside the “unexpectedly abundant” money in power: the role of the humanities professor, her “applied work,” apparently is to guide us poor ignorant racist dimwits in all matters — let’s see here… cultural and political, because we wouldn’t want the laypeople (the rabble or “voters”) to misunderstand any issues as critically important as — well…
Limerick’s most important work, Legacy of Conquest (1987), interprets Western history as “an important meeting ground for Indians, Latin-Americans, Anglo- and Afro- Americans and Asians,” highlighting the importance of “Hispanics, Chinese, Japanese, blacks, Mormons, strikers and radicals.” (“Not recommended” — Library Journal.)
Another nearly completed project, The Nature of Justice: Racial Equity and Environmental Well-Being, spotlights the involvement of ethnic minorities with environmental issues.
In the current circumstances of higher education, young travelers would be wise […] to travel the prescribed route to tenure, while still hurrying along as fast as they can. The nation and the planet need their help.
In other words, hurry up and make yourself immune to public opinion, so you can help Professor Limerick rule the world. (Here she is with the senior leadership of the EPA, presumably explaining how ethnic minorities can help heal the planet.)
Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow rediscovers the same function in ‘The Repurposed Ph.D.’ (2013):
Nonacademic work is not a fallback plan for failures but a win-win: Ph.D.’s can bring their deep expertise and advanced skills to a whole gamut of challenges, rather than remaining cocooned in the ivory tower.
Karen Shanton explored unconscious cognitive processes for her philosophy Ph.D. from Rutgers but works at the National Conference of State Legislatures, which provides legislators with nonpartisan analysis. She won the two-year fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies. Its Public Fellows program, created in 2011, places Ph.D.’s from the humanities and social sciences in nonprofit and government organizations.
Dr. Shanton said her education “absolutely” informs her work, which focuses in part on voter ID laws, as she draws on her writing and thinking skills as well as her knowledge of how the mind works. “It’s actually kind of great because it has a lot of the benefits of academia,” she said. But “with politics, you can have a sort of more immediate impact.”
The American Council of Learned Societies, in their own words,
was created in 1919 to represent the United States in the Union Académique Internationale (International Union of Academies). The founders of ACLS — representatives of 13 learned societies — were convinced that a federation of scholarly organizations, most with open membership but all dedicated to excellence in research, was the best possible combination of America’s democratic ethos and intellectual aspirations.
The Council’s many activities have at their core the practice of scholarly self-governance.
“Scholarly self-governance.” Public opinion guided by intellectuals: the new and improved democracy. Oh, and look, it’s even transnational.
UC Berkeley history professor David Hollinger, specialist in “the intellectual and ethno-racial history of the United States since the Civil War,” demands to know why the peons, the insolent Red State rabble, this — this trash, this human garbage, the sort of stupid moron idiots too fucking stupid to be history professors at UC Berkeley, somehow believe, in their tiny, shriveled monkey brains, that they should get a say in how the government redistributes their incomes. How dare they (2013):
In 1966, Walter Lippmann published an essay in The New Republic on “The University,” observing that scholars and scientists had become the ultimate arbiters of virtually every question faced by humankind — and a good thing, too. That a Florida governor could today recommend downgrading the humanities, that members of Congress would try to cut NSF funds for the entire discipline of political science — well, Lionel Trilling and his contemporaries faced nothing remotely like that.
Fortunately, this has never, ever even slowed down the monotonically increasing “impact” of political “scientists.” But keep your eyes focused on those Republicans in Congress! They might try to seize some sort of power. With votes.
The humanities deserve support not because they always get things right — often they do not — but because they are the great risk takers in the tradition of the Enlightenment. Nothing could be further from the uncritical preservation of traditional culture so often advanced by nonacademics under the sign of the humanities.
The present education conventions fade from their minds; and, unhampered by tradition, we work our own good will upon a grateful and responsive rural folk.
It is too easy to assume that the public cannot understand grander aspirations and more-capacious visions of life. Not everyone can be expected to get it. But some will. By running from, instead of proclaiming, the role of the liberal arts and sciences in bringing received wisdom and vested interests under the scrutiny of critical thought, we risk further diminishing the public’s ability to appreciate it.
Stupid peasants are stupid.
All of us, as scholars, have a responsibility to patiently and repeatedly explain the social value of what we do, in common, as children of the Enlightenment. We are the people of Newton and Locke; we are the people of Darwin and Mill, the people of Einstein and Oppenheimer, of Dewey and Arendt and Habermas. We have defined the terms of science and scholarship in the North Atlantic West and beyond since the 17th century. We serve society by placing its inherited pieties and entrenched interests at risk, not in some iconoclastic mode, but rather by way of ensuring that beliefs and entanglements survive only when they are strong enough to meet the most empirically warranted of challenges.
I’m speechless. Really. Again, I almost cannot believe this paragraph was published. (What is going on at the Chronicle of Higher Education?) “Patiently and repeatedly.” “Social value.” “We have defined the terms.” “We serve society.” Good grief.
And Newton paired with Locke! The great lie of “the Enlightenment.” Sir Isaac Newton was, of course, an incomparable scientific genius — and a fundamentalist Christian royalist who enjoyed having counterfeiters hanged, drawn and quartered in the name of Her Majesty the Queen. John Locke, on the other hand, as we know, was an early political progressive — whose flagrant abuses of deductive logic ultimately led to titanic mass murder in the name of the People, not to mention such thoroughly anti-scientific doctrines as the Blank Slate and the Noble Savage. But Professor Hollinger (among others) expects me to believe that they were both part of the same movement, whereby the unrelated theories of both physics and government “progressed,” and we should all call this movement “the Enlightenment” and swallow it whole — because “Enlightenment” means good, right? Duh. Freedom is cool, man.
But let us not overlook the littler lies, like “empirically warranted” in the context of political “science.” I refer you to my favourite resource on the philosophy of science: the Science Buddies guide to the scientific method.
It is important for your experiment to be a fair test. A “fair test” occurs when you change only one factor (variable) and keep all other conditions the same.
Which makes political “science” — well, not science, surely. (It’s not like you can duplicate a country and try out, say, monarchy in one copy, democracy in the other.) But then — what is it, exactly? Most perplexing!
All told, nothing less than you’d expect, my friends, in this, the Age of Lies.
And, like “anti-communists” or something — LOL (image)
If one day the situation were reversed and the fate of the vanquished lay in my hands, then I would let all the ordinary folk go, and even some of the leaders, who might perhaps after all have had honourable intentions and not known what they were doing. But I would have all the intellectuals strung up, and the professors three feet higher than the rest; they would be left hanging from the lamp posts for as long as was compatible with hygiene.
Victor Klemperer (German Jew), 1936
Still with us, I see. My friend, I applaud your stamina, really I do, and promise not to tax it too much longer. For at last the turning wheel brings us back around to the Present Time, “youngest-born of Eternity, child and heir of all the Past Times with their good and evil, and parent of all the Future.”
Not to mention home of democratic schizophrenia.
The Mystery of the Missing Partisan Violence
Alex Seitz-Wald is a political correspondent for the National Journal (owned by Atlantic Media), assistant editor of ThinkProgress (run by the Center for American Progress Action Fund), political reporter for the communist newsletter Salon, and an international relations major, in light of which a breathtaking ignorance of American history is the very least we should expect from him. Don’t disappoint us, Alex (2013):
America, we’ve got some bad news: Our Constitution isn’t going to make it. It’s had 224 years of commendable, often glorious service, but there’s a time for everything, and the government shutdown and permanent-crisis governance signal that it’s time to think about moving on.
Clocking in at some 4,500 words — about the same length as the screenplay for an episode of Two and a Half Men — and without serious modification since 18-year-olds got the vote in 1971, the Constitution simply isn’t cut out for 21st-century governance.
Put simply, we’ve learned a lot since 1787. What was for the Founders a kind of providential revelation — designing, from scratch, a written charter and democratic system at a time when the entire history of life on this planet contained scant examples of either — has been worked into science.
You can blame today’s actors all you want, but they’re just the product of the system, and honestly it’s a wonder we’ve survived this long: The presidential election of 1800, a nasty campaign of smears and hyper-partisan attacks just a decade after ratification, caused a deadlock in the House over whether John Adams or Thomas Jefferson should be president. The impasse grew so tense that state militias opposed to Adams’s Federalist Party prepared to march on Washington before lawmakers finally elected Jefferson on the 36th vote in the House. It’s a near miracle we haven’t seen more partisan violence, but it seems like tempting fate to stick with the status quo for much longer.
A wonder! A miracle! Partisan violence, generally associated with democracy, is indeed no longer generally associated with the U.S. government (notwithstanding the antics of Eric Holder’s people). What luck. Thank you, fate. Because (it goes without saying) the U.S. government is substantially the same as it was in 1800, i.e., a democracy — albeit one from which partisan violence is currently, mysteriously absent.
But beware! Our “democracy” is nevertheless imperiled by violence (2013):
Last Tuesday, a month after three people attending a town meeting in the Poconos died in a barrage of gunfire, police 40 miles to the northwest arrested a Freeland man and charged him with terroristic threats. Authorities allege he threatened to kill borough police officers and officials and set fire to the town over a code enforcement matter.
While the Freeland man was being arraigned Tuesday evening, Ross Township officials convened publicly for the first time since the August shooting, behind a metal detector and under the protection of sheriff deputies at the 911 center. Freeland officials understandably postponed their scheduled public meeting in light of the alleged threat.
Events in both towns forced security issues to delay our representative form of local government. The heart of democracy is for citizens to face local officials and air their grievances, and that had to be shelved because of safety concerns.
A lasting effect might very well be be that people with legitimate public concerns may be dissuaded from standing up and being heard.
A town hall is where issues are debated — with spirit, if warranted — and eventually decided after sufficient discussion and deliberation. After all, having differences of opinion openly aired is key to what makes our representative form of government work.
The 1790s, today!
Now more of us can expect to have armed officers present when airing our grievances at public forums. That certainly does not send positive signals about the society into which we are evolving.
It might sound simplistic, but we have to work individually and collectively to curtail the violence that threatens our precious rights. After all, freedom lost is difficult to regain.
Look, I know that we in the Thomas Carlyle Club for Young Reactionaries like to joke around, but in this case, if I may be completely serious for a moment, the Times-Leader in Pennsylvania is absolutely right: it does sound simplistic.
No, but seriously, democracy, which America definitely still has, really is under attack by — well, it’s obvious, isn’t it? The notoriously undemocratic Tea Party! According to all-American “neoconservative” multi-millionaire Thomas Friedman, that is (2013):
This time is different. What is at stake in this government shutdown forced by a radical Tea Party minority is nothing less than the principle upon which our democracy is based: majority rule.
I think the mob leaders — I mean, Founding Fathers might quibble with that.
President Obama must not give in to this hostage taking — not just because Obamacare is at stake, but because the future of how we govern ourselves is at stake.
If democracy means anything, it means that, if you are outvoted, you accept the results and prepare for the next election. Republicans are refusing to do that. It shows contempt for the democratic process.
No, showing contempt for the democratic process is what we’re doing. See the difference, you bloviating clown?
President Obama is not defending health care. He’s defending the health of our democracy. Every American who cherishes that should stand with him.
I’d rather say President Obama is preserving democracy — like a pig fetus in a jar of formaldehyde.
Friedman has been flogging democracy’s corpse for some time now (2009):
I have no problem with any of the substantive criticism of President Obama from the right or left. But something very dangerous is happening. Criticism from the far right has begun tipping over into delegitimation and creating the same kind of climate here that existed in Israel on the eve of the Rabin assassination.
Even if you are not worried that someone might draw from these vitriolic attacks a license to try to hurt the president, you have to be worried about what is happening to American politics more broadly.
This worrisome trend turns out to be: “delegitimizing” the president or presidency.
Mr. Obama is now having his legitimacy attacked by a concerted campaign from the right fringe. They are using everything from smears that he is a closet “socialist” to calling him a “liar” in the middle of a joint session of Congress to fabricating doubts about his birth in America and whether he is even a citizen.
I am somebody who is no doubt progressive. I believe in a tax code that we need to make more fair. I believe in universal health care. I believe in making college affordable. I believe in paying our teachers more money. I believe in early childhood education. I believe in a whole lot of things that make me progressive.
Anyway, back to Friedman:
We can’t go 24 years without a legitimate president — not without being swamped by the problems that we will end up postponing because we can’t address them rationally.
The American political system was, as the saying goes, “designed by geniuses so it could be run by idiots.” But a cocktail of political and technological trends have converged in the last decade that are making it possible for the idiots of all political stripes to overwhelm and paralyze the genius of our system.
Political “science” to the rescue! Yes, as long as the super-smart experts write us an objectively correct set of rules, also known as “formulating public policy,” there’s no way the idiot voters can screw it up — unless they imbibe a cocktail:
Those factors are: the wild excess of money in politics; the gerrymandering of political districts, making them permanently Republican or Democratic and erasing the political middle; a 24/7 cable news cycle that makes all politics a daily battle of tactics that overwhelm strategic thinking; and a blogosphere that at its best enriches our debates, adding new checks on the establishment, and at its worst coarsens our debates to a whole new level, giving a new power to anonymous slanderers to send lies around the world. Finally, on top of it all, we now have a permanent presidential campaign that encourages all partisanship, all the time among our leading politicians.
In other words, the problem is democracy itself, because the exact same paralyzing potion has been “converging in the last decade” since approximately the Revolutionary War. (For “blog,” read pamphlet.)
I would argue that together these changes add up to a difference of degree that is a difference in kind — a different kind of American political scene that makes me wonder whether we can seriously discuss serious issues any longer and make decisions on the basis of the national interest.
“Any longer.” Sounds like our political debates have suddenly become extremely partizan, personal, often scurrilous, and intentionally deceptive. Who could have seen that coming? More public policy is required!
Peace Through Revolutionary Terror
Never fear, democrats: revolutionary violence just might make a comeback (2013).
Russell Brand’s call for revolution, for a fundamental political, economic, cultural and cognitive shift, is on point. But rather than entailing disengagement resulting in anarchy, this requires the opposite: Engagement at all levels in order to elicit structural transformation on multiple scales through the overwhelming presence of people taking power back, here and now.
That could include civil disobedience and occupying public spaces.
Oh good: mass lawlessness “rather than anarchy.”
Dr. Nafeez Ahmed is executive director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development and author of A User’s Guide to the Crisis of Civilization: And How to Save It among other books.
Then he should know better.
The Institute for Policy Research & Development, in their own words,
is an independent non-profit research organisation for transdisciplinary security studies, analysing violent conflict in the context of global ecological, energy and economic crises. […] It currently operates as a voluntary global collective of specialist scholars, scientists, and analysts, working in different fields of the social and physical sciences.
Unlike other think-tanks which focus purely on the policymaking community, the IPRD aims explicitly to provide a grassroots service promoting the education and empowerment of the general public, by developing local educational activities, cultural events and diverse written and audiovisual materials, through which to disseminate academic and policy research to a mass market audience. The IPRD believes firmly that strong democracies require informed publics, and therefore that good research deserves to be widely read and understood. It thus aims to increase public understanding of social and global crises, as well as to encourage public engagement and participation in research processes, campaigning and lobbying for progressive social change.
They won’t just rule you, they’ll make you like it, too.
Dr. Ahmed, who recommends “the overwhelming presence of people taking power back, here and now,” in the form of “civil disobedience and occupying public spaces,” has advised the British and American governments on terrorism prevention. He is also an “Associate Expert” at Transcend International, a “timely experiment in promoting peace by peaceful means” made up of “more than 400 scholars-practitioners from more than 60 countries,” which is currently solving the “Israeli/Palestinian conflict” by “building a network of Facilitators for Peace in the Middle East, “developing a methodology for Social Transformation in Conflict,” and of course “disseminating TRANSCEND’s approach of pursuing peace by peaceful means.”
This influential fellow is even a member of the “Security and International Relations Research Committee” of the Center for Global Nonkilling, which is exactly as stupid as it sounds, and incidentally wants to stamp out politically inconvenient science:
Assuming a nonkilling society is possible implies the refutation of violence-accepting science from politics to biology. […] As a new paradigm, nonkilling has its own basic principles, language, scientific values and methodological criteria. Violence-accepting science […] has largely ignored progress made by nonviolent science, impeded by assumptions hindering the development and acceptance of new ideas.
Rousseau would be proud.
Terry Newell was a director of training for the U.S. Department of Education and the Dean of Faculty of the Federal Executive Institute before he quit the civil service to found something called “Leadership for a Responsible Society” — which went nowhere, possibly because Mr. Newell is a goddamn idiot: apparently, the only alternative to democracy is the bureaucratic tyranny of communism (Sam Francis’ anarcho-tyranny, James Burnham’s managerial revolution, Ronald Neff’s polite totalitarianism), whereas the essence of democracy is Franklin Delano Roosevelt, America’s first openly communist president. Wow us, Mr. Newell (2013).
Why do so many Americans protest against so many things, giving other countries the impression that most of what we do is shout at each other? Why is gridlock seemingly our only form of national government? Why do we have endless debate and so little progress on such major concerns as immigration reform, the budget, and the debt? No one abroad could be blamed for thinking that the United States is, in many respects, an embarrassment to its citizens. No one abroad could be blamed for being disenchanted with democracy, if this is what it looks like.
It may be helpful, however, for them to view the American scene from another perspective. Take Obamacare as one example. Universal, affordable, government-assisted health care was a project first proposed under President Franklin D. Roosevelt. It took another seven decades of angry debate to enact it. Multiple states have challenged the Affordable Care Act in the courts, but most of it survived that challenge. Republicans rail against it, and legislatures and/or governors in many states are still undermining it.
Note that Mr. Newell, big-time unelected bureaucrat, is extremely but also, in a sense, unknowingly left-wing. Progressive, socialist, Whig, communist — call it what you like, he’s obviously been stewing in it for decades.
Americans who want health care under that law are, finally, faced with multiple options — on a web site that barely functions. Sloppy? Inefficient? Confusing? Yes. Yet, perhaps this is in part the price of freedom. If the United States was a top-down, rigidly hierarchical, centrally governed society, it would be relatively simple to implement, and enforce national health care. Yet, those who observe us from afar should recall that societies, like the former Soviet Union, that are top-down, rigid, hierarchical, and centrally governed are also more corrupt. They often fail to meet basic citizen needs. They also don’t last very long.
I don’t know what else to say: this is the stupidest thing ever said about government. And just as a bonus:
Why do the American and world press have such a field day, almost every day, mocking the inefficiency, inconsistency, and seeming insanity of the way Americans govern themselves? Maybe this, too, is the price of the freedom and openness that characterize American society.
None of this is to excuse incivility in our culture or inefficiency and abuses of power in government. Freedom does not demand these. It does, it seems, permit, foster and often tolerate them for a while. But that same freedom eventually produces a corrective. As Winston Churchill once put it, “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing — after they’ve tried everything else.”
Ah, so freedom eventually demands that we stamp out “incivility.” Freedom necessitates corrective thought control — cultural Marxism — political correctness. Good to know.
Paging Dr. Lippmann
Looking for love in exotic places? Trust me, don’t bother with Foreign Affairs (2006):
As recently as 18 months ago, a visitor could have spent a week in the United States, watching television and reading the newspapers, and come away with virtually no clue that immigration was a major issue. Today, it is at or near the top of most voters’ lists of problems facing the nation — one that, in many people’s minds, outweighs every other threat save international terrorism. This shift has been driven in large part by politicians and the media.
What, instead of the General Will of the People? No kidding. Next you’ll be telling me we’re no longer governed by the Constitution.
Ms. Vamburkar, if you happen to be reading this, know that one is never too young to start poring over dusty old books like Public Opinion (2012):
A cable news structure with distinctly opinionated networks inherently has the power to define national discourse. And we see this everyday with the type of stories that dominate headlines for days versus those that barely get mention. It’s more evident in the discussion, of course. In the way stories are framed, themes emerge, and it’s easy to see patterns of certain talking points and perspectives. If viewers feel like they often hear the same opinions and points of view, they’re not just imagining it.
Obviously this demonstrates how much influence the media can and does have. Many find themselves resenting this fact, while others may use the media as a scapegoat in specific instances. As always, there are exceptions; the media isn’t always at fault, but the same can be said about the viewers. Step outside the “conservative” and “liberal” boundaries, and the reaction likely won’t be a positive one. It’s interesting that news organizations, of all things, are serving as this force.
“Of all things.”
Ruling Class Clowns
By now it is no longer a secret that college students get their political news, and views, from the Daily Show (Indiana University, Pew Research, The New York Times, etc.). Jon “Stewart” Leibowitz, he of the perpetual sneer, would like to remind you that the purpose of his “comedy” show is to advance ultra-left wing political projects, so any apparent criticism of same is purely accidental (2013):
Jon Stewart trotted out a choir on Thursday night’s “Daily Show” to deliver a message to members of the media who used his comedy to criticize Obamacare and its administrative chief, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius: “Go f*ck yourselves.”
His Own Facts
Richard Thompson Ford is the George E. Osborne Professor of Law at Stanford University, a former Reginald F. Lewis Fellow at Harvard Law School, a self-proclaimed “expert on civil rights and antidiscrimination law” and “an insightful voice and compelling writer on questions of race and multiculturalism,” something something “racial segregation,” something something “struggle for equality,” and so on and so forth; in other words, he is a black — well, mulatto person of above-average intelligence, who has accordingly been affirmative-actioned into academic eminence.
Please, see for yourself: here’s Professor Ford on Thomas Sowell (2013).
Rather like Booker T. Washington, Sowell argues that today’s racial inequalities are the fault of a black culture that encourages the most talented to squander their time and energy mastering esoteric social theories that blame others for their problems, rather than learning the practical skills that will help them solve those problems themselves. He complains that a malcontented “intelligentsia have demanded an equality of outcome and of social recognition, irrespective of the skills, behavior or performance of the group to which they belong or on whose behalf they spoke.”
Anyone familiar with the academic trends of recent decades will recognize some of Sowell’s bêtes noires. Still, one has to wonder which country Sowell is writing about, where “intellectuals can influence the way millions of other people see race.” Is it France, a nation proud of its cerebral culture, where philosophers and social theorists are celebrities? Or perhaps Germany, birthplace of modern post-graduate education, where analytic precision is built into the mother tongue? Certainly not the United States, where folksy vernacular is a sign of moral virtue and erudition is held in contempt; where the ethos of democratic egalitarianism means the uneducated citizen feels entitled not only to his own opinion, but as Tip O’Neill once quipped, to his own facts. Whatever flaws one may find in America’s racial politics — and there are many — it strains credulity to blame them on the dominance of intellectuals. And this makes one worry that Sowell is playing up to a specific audience — an audience that is eager to attack “ivory tower professors” for their supposed “liberal bias.”
I notice that “folksy vernacular” is not considered “a sign of moral virtue” by Professor Ford, and that “erudition” is not “held in contempt” at Stanford University. But that doesn’t matter, because as we’ve just established, intellectuals like Ford don’t “influence the way millions of other people think.” Nope. I mean, sure, they tell the students in their classrooms, including our future teachers and journalists, what to believe, and our future teachers and journalists will tell future generations what to believe, but that’s okay, because the intellectuals are always objectively right — according to the intellectuals, of course. Like when Professor Ford is making up “his own facts” about, um, let’s say race — or, you know, his own history of democracy and the intellectuals.
Arab Spring Surprise
Shadi Hamid, whom I’ll introduce properly a little later, has a most remarkable theory as to how terrorism might be prevented (2011):
In the long run, democracy promotion remains the best and most effective way to fight terrorism. That such a notion came to be associated with such an unpopular president made it easy to dismiss. The academic literature, however, appears to lend it support.
Personally, I would rather associate “democracy promotion” with death vomited in great floods. After all, the Jacobins were the original terrorists. But I suppose I can settle for President Bush. Now, you were saying something about the “academic literature”?
Drawing on considerable empirical data, Alan Kruger — who is now, interestingly, President Barack Obama’s pick to head the Council of Economic Advisers — found that “terrorists are more likely to come from countries that suppress political and civil rights.” Reviewing the evidence, Steven Brooke and I made the argument for a causal link between lack of democracy and the incidence of terrorism in this 2010 Policy Review article.
Now don’t you feel silly for reading all those dusty old books, filled with people and events and life and death, and not a table nor graph to be seen, when all along the answer was in the data. Ah, data: the only way to understand anything. We can never have enough of it, and with each fresh datum, our understanding deepens. Data! I must have more data! Igor, a fresh batch of guinea pigs, if you please:
As Egypt and Libya — formerly two of the more flagrant exporters of terrorists — democratize, scholars will be better able to test the hypothesis. But, with or without the data, what we see right in front of us tells a powerful story. The triumph of democracy in places like Egypt and Tunisia can do what all the “hard” counter-terrorism measures can’t — discredit al-Qaeda’s narrative that political change can come only through violence.
How insightful. Meanwhile, in Testing Chamber 1 (2013):
I’m writing this in Cairo where along with 13 other provinces we’re under curfew and a nationwide state of emergency has been announced just one day after a day drenched in blood — the bloodiest since our revolution — a day that included at least 20 churches getting torched.
This really is going well, isn’t it?
As the Egyptian military consolidates control by murdering pro-Muslim Brotherhood protesters and declaring a state of emergency, we may be witnessing the most dangerous potential for Arab radicalization since the two Palestinian intifadas.
John Kerry splits the difference — between “democracy” and military dictatorship.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Thursday that the Egyptian army, which deposed President Mohammed Morsi, had intervened at the request of millions to protect democracy and had restored it, AFP reported.
“The military was asked to intervene by millions and millions of people, all of whom were afraid of descendance into chaos, into violence,” Kerry was quoted as having told Geo.
“And the military did not take over, to the best of our judgment — so far. To run the country, there’s a civilian government. In effect, they were restoring democracy,” he added.
The interviewer questioned him over allegations that Egyptian troops have shot dead people in the streets.
“Oh, no. That’s not restoring democracy, and we’re very, very concerned… I’ve been in touch with all of the players there. And we have made it clear that that is absolutely unacceptable, it cannot happen,” Kerry said, according to AFP.
Revised predictions, Mr. Hamid?
It would be perverse if the January 2011 revolution paved the way for something worse than what it sought to replace. But that is where Egypt is headed.
How unexpected. How perverse.
Egypt is the most populous Arab country and a bellwether for the region. There was a time when observers would say banal, hopeful things like “Egypt can show the way toward a new democratic Middle East.” But that was a different time.
Ah hahaha! Oh, my. So brown corpses, burned and bleeding, pile up in the streets, and in America, birthplace and chief exporter of revolutionary violence and terror, top Democrats and Republicans agree: “democracy is about more than elections.”
Meanwhile, delicate instruments monitor the response in Testing Chamber 2 (2013):
At first, it seemed as if Libya would be one of the Arab Spring’s success stories.
The promise, however, has not yet materialized. Today, the central government’s reach barely extends beyond Tripoli. Much of the rest of the country is under the control of militias. In the east, militias have just announced the creation of their own oil company, selling crude from seized oil fields and port terminals. The head of the central government, Prime Minister Ali Zeidan, is nearly powerless. He was even kidnapped by a militia group last month, only to be freed by another, a few hours later.
(And let’s not forget that nasty business at the embassy the year before.)
And if we poke our heads into Testing Chamber 3 (2013):
In Tunisia, the euphoric Arab Spring has descended into a summer of discontent. Two years after launching the Arab Spring, setting in motion changes that have convulsed the Middle East and North Africa, worsening national conditions have soured Tunisians’ views of both their political leadership and many national institutions associated with the country’s democratic awakening. Faith in democracy’s efficacy in solving Tunisia’s problems has also weakened.
The Pew Research Center describes itself as “a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public” and “does not take policy positions,” but it can still take positions on nonpartisan, fact-based matters — like what the word “democracy” means, and why it is so awesome and everyone in the world needs to have it right away (2013):
As Tunisians’ unhappiness with their country’s direction and their national economy has grown, so has their disappointment in their new democracy.
Frustration with political conditions in Tunisia has sown doubts about the value of democracy in general.
A thriving economy and political stability have also become higher priorities relative to establishing democracy.
Recall Kuwait: It is unlikely that many Kuwaitis would be willing to trade their political rights and freedoms for more economic opportunity. But the notion that democracy is somehow holding Kuwait back is common.
Nonetheless, although there is widespread dissatisfaction with democracy in action, a broad majority of Tunisians continue to prioritize key components of democracy.
Those “key components of democracy” turn out to include…
Roughly seven-in-ten or more say it is very important for Tunisia’s future to have a judicial system that treats everyone the same way, to have fair elections with at least two political parties, and to have a media that is free from government censorship.
I invite the reader to consider the “key democratic principle” of “a judicial system that treats everyone the same way” in light of the disparate impact ruling. I further invite you to consider the notion of “a media that is free from government censorship” in light of Lippmann’s observation that a democratic state is guided by public opinion, and public opinion is guided by journalists, which makes the press an informal branch of the government (and who would censor themselves?). As for “fair elections with at least two political parties,” I refer you to the People’s Republic of Poland and the German Democratic Republic, where you really could vote for whomever you liked, for all the good that did you.
But I could be wrong. Look, even once-skeptical Kuwait cannot resist this latest glorious revolution (2012):
It may not be saying much, but Kuwait is certainly the most democratic country in the Gulf. MPs and journalists openly clash with the ruling family; freedom of speech and assembly are widely accepted. Many Kuwaitis had hoped for more liberties when the Arab spring began in early 2011. Instead, a cycle of clashes between government and opposition has been speeding up, with police using tear-gas and rubber bullets to disperse demonstrators.
Musallam Barrak, an ex-MP who got the highest number of votes ever gained by a single candidate earlier this year, and who hails from a well-known tribe, the Mutairi, addressed a crowd of thousands of mainly young protesters in Erada Square, in the centre of the capital, on October 21st. “We will not allow you,” he said, in language aimed directly at the emir, “to take the country into the abyss of dictatorship.” Young people were no longer afraid of police batons or jails, he said. Right on cue, the police turned up with batons, tear-gas and pellet guns. Three ex-MPs were arrested and brought to court, blindfolded and with their heads shaven, though they have since been bailed. Unauthorised gatherings of 20 or more people are now to be banned.
While the government and the opposition are both upping the ante, many Kuwaitis are alarmed, trusting neither the government to protect their political liberties nor the opposition to protect their social freedoms. In the short run the future is unclear, but the episode provides yet more evidence that the Gulf’s wealth alone is not enough to protect it from growing demand for more political rights.
So the choice is between “political liberties,” on the one hand, meaning you can cast a worthless vote for the useless politician of your choice; and “social freedoms,” on the other, meaning you can walk to the corner to buy some hummus without getting strung up by a howling mob of anarchists, then tear-gassed by state security forces (not to mention you get “a thriving economy,” or at least a rubble-free “financial district”).
Quite the dilemma…
To be fair, Mr. Hamid acknowledges that democracy isn’t perfect (2011):
So, yes, the advent of democracy is likely to contain the spread of violent extremism. But it is, of course, no panacea.
And the problem with democracy turns out to be…
In countries like Denmark, the Netherlands, and Norway, far-right populists are the second or third largest parties in parliament. The United States has its own particular Tea Party variant.
Mr. Hamid is the director of research at the Brookings Doha Center (“a reputation for policy impact”) and a fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy (“dissemination of public policy research”). Both centers are divisions of the Brookings Institution. What is the Brookings Institution, you ask?
In 1916, Robert S. Brookings worked with other government reformers to create the first private organization devoted to the fact-based study of national public policy issues. The new Institute for Government Research became the chief advocate for effective and efficient public service and sought to bring science to the study of government.
Brookings created two sister organizations: the Institute of Economics in 1922 and a graduate school in 1924. In 1927, the institutes and the school merged to form the present-day Brookings Institution, with the mission to promote, conduct and foster research “in the broad fields of economics, government administration and the political and social sciences.”
The Brookings trustees chose the organization’s first president: Harold Moulton, a University of Chicago professor who was known for his study of war debts. Brookings economists played a large role in crafting the 1921 legislation that created the first U.S. Bureau of the Budget. President Warren G. Harding called the bureau, which planned the government’s financial outlays, “the greatest reform in governmental practices since the beginning of the republic.”
Saving the worst for last, we sink now into the depths of AlterNet. The first of ‘10 Reasons Why the Tea Party is So Unpopular’ (2013):
1. They really don’t care about America as a nation. For the past 25 years, Pew said that polls routinely find that about 55 percent of American voters want representatives in Congress to put local concerns ahead of “what they think is best for the country.” Tea Partiers disproportionately take that view. “Among Tea Party Republicans, fully 76 percent say members should vote against a bill their constituents oppose, even if he or she thinks it is in the best interest of the country,” Pew said. “Just 22 percent say the lawmaker should prioritize the national interest.”
In other words, the number one problem is that many of these elected representatives believe they should represent their electorate, instead of just following the step-by-step instructions of public policy experts. Indeed, “this radical right-wing block” is so “out of step with what’s good for America,” they won’t even “join with Democrats” — evidently the only way to “work for effective governance.”
The article, by Steven Rosenfeld (author of Count My Vote: A Citizen’s Guide to Voting), has garnered well over 400 comments, not one of which mentions this curious democratic double valence, though they span the mainstream political spectrum, from ultra-Whig to fairly Whig. Some commenters double down:
Conservatism is a mental disorder. These cretins want their elected representatives to vote against bills that are in the best interests of the country. Does anyone else think this is totally insane, not to mention unpatriotic and potentially treasonous?
Others compound the confusion: is representation now a good thing?
And they also don’t know their own history, at all. They take their name from a group who opposed taxation without representation while they want representation denied to the rest of us so they can be loud and willfully stupid.
One commenter, hauling out the democracy death cult’s greatest hits, recapitulates the long history of one lousy idea:
“God gave the world in common to all mankind.” — John Locke
“The first man who, having enclosed a piece of land, bethought himself of saying ‘this is mine’ and found people simple enough to believe him, was the real founder of civic society. From how many crimes, wars and murders… might not any one have saved mankind, by pulling up the stakes or filling in the ditch, and crying to his fellows: ‘beware of listening to this impostor!’? You are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody.” — Jean-Jacques Rousseau
“The earth is given as a common stock for man to labor and live on.” — Thomas Jefferson
“There are two kinds of property. Firstly, natural property, or that which comes to us from the Creator of the universe — such as the earth, air, water. Secondly, artificial or acquired property — the invention of men. In the natural property all individuals have legitimate birthrights. Men did not make the earth. It is the value of the improvement only, and not the earth itself, that is individual property.” — Thomas Paine
Hold on, let me just check that… yup, still wrong, still disastrous.
Finally, read “progressiveandproud,” and reflect on the prospects for popular government (sic to everything):
I’m at the point that I absolutely detest the tea party and anyone who supports them. They entire lot of them are traitors to our country. There doesn’t seem to be a one of them who has read and actually understood the Constitution.
As docile as I am, I’m almost at the point of saying “Shoot on site”!
According to a 2013 poll, 58 percent of Americans want to legalize marijuana. AlterNet recognizes, in this “record-breaking” figure, “the unprecedented momentum of the drug policy reform movement,” whose popular support “has never been more apparent.” Indeed, “the law is trailing far behind public opinion.” Far behind.
According to a 2007 poll, 59 (>58) percent of Americans oppose the “DREAM Act,” a form of amnesty for Mesoamerican colonizers (Issue 5). On this issue, however, public opinion turns out to be wrong: “the fight for immigration reform has escalated,” AlterNet explains, “and it’s time for the House to move.” They invite us to “spend a minute thinking about the courageous DREAMers who risked deportation to send a message to our representatives,” after which we should all “join the movement.” Presumably, once 58 percent of us do so, this will constitute the sort of unprecedented momentum for “immigration reform” that we already see for “drug policy reform.”
Not all public opinion is wrong about Mesoamerican colonization (AlterNet, 2010): 88 percent of mestizo voters — that is, members of the same race as the people who are currently invading the United States — support the DREAM Act, which of course is perfectly natural and should be celebrated. Indeed, “with such a strong relationship here between Latino constituents and support for the DREAM Act” — a relationship AlterNet chooses not to investigate — “a significant question is why did both Senators from Texas, and both Senators from Arizona oppose the DREAM Act?” After all, “if any lesson was learned in 2010, it should be to not underestimate the Latino electorate, which is growing in size, and influence” (due, of course, to Mesoamerican colonization).
Not every race gets to influence democracy, though: because 65 (<88) percent of white men voted for Romney, AlterNet (2012) concludes that “frightened white men” have proven that “older white males remain the most terrified, lopsided, confused demographic in all of America, perhaps even more acutely — and more embarrassingly — in this election than any other in modern history.” Indeed, “confused middle-aged white guys of every height and state are looking around in increasing terror/desperation for some hint of stability, someone to validate — however wrongly, however dishonestly — their waning powers.” The “good news” is that these “terrified old white guys are a dying breed.” But “the evolution of the species” — that is, the replacement of white people by non-white people — “can’t come fast enough.” Because that’s working out so well in these post-colonial times (Issue 12).
Not mentioned by AlterNet: 93 (>65) percent of black voters voted for the black — well, mulatto candidate.
AlterNet (2013) recognizes a threat to democracy in “billionaires like the Koch Brothers, who are corrupting our political process, while destroying the environment and poisoning us.” Here is how this “corruption of our democracy” has been accomplished:
Between 1998 and 2008, Koch brother-controlled foundations gave more than $196 million to organizations that favor polices that would further pad the wallets of the two brothers.
In that same time period, Koch Industries, owned by the two brothers, spent $50 million on lobbying and handed out $8 million in PAC contributions.
The Kochs are also behind groups like Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks, which both gave and continue to give major financial support for the Tea Party movement.
And FreedomPartners, a Koch-affiliated organization, has doled out grants worth over $230 million to a variety of conservative organizations, Tea Party groups, and front-groups that oppose Obamacare.
In light of this “brazen buyout of our democracy” — that is, the Koch brothers “spending hundreds of millions to buy as much political power as they can” — it is clear that “we can’t continue to let” these would-be oligarchs “continue to buy off the American political process.”
Meanwhile, progressive billionaire George Soros spends hundreds of millions of dollars on progressive political organizations, including the Independent Media Institute, which runs… AlterNet. That’s okay, though, because AlterNet has explained that Mr. Soros “believes in democracy, positive international relations and effective strategies to reduce poverty, among other things.” AlterNet, which won’t actually tell you that it’s funded by Mr. Soros, sees no conflict of interest here: “AlterNet believes that media must have a higher purpose beyond the essential goal of keeping people informed.”
The ghost of Lippmann smiles on you, AlterNet, really it does.
You are now prepared to enjoy the Carlyle Club’s Basic Guide to the Political Spectrum. (Click for the full-size version. Saint-Exupéry wrote The Little Prince.)
Want to learn more about the topics covered in this issue of Radish? We recommend the following resources. (We do not, however, necessarily endorse all opinions expressed in them: some are not nearly extreme enough.)
- ‘Divine-right monarchy for the modern secular intellectual’
- ‘The greatness of Lawrence Auster’
- ‘The ugly truth about government’
- ‘The Tea Party vs. the Intellectuals’
- ‘Who we are; what we’re up to’
- ‘On Crackpot Realism: An Homage to C. Wright Mills’
- ‘When Democracy Isn’t Democratic Enough’
- ‘Robespierre or the “Divine Violence” of Terror’
- Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace
- The Managerial Revolution: What Is Happening in the World
- The Machiavellians: Defenders of Freedom
- ‘Dante: Politics as Wish’ from The Machiavellians